Having the hot hand is nothing new for Nigel Johnson; the George Washington recruit once scored 55 points in a game last year. But after transferring from Broad Run to Riverdale Baptist this past offseason in search of better competition, Johnson knew his average night a year ago could become a rare performance on the loaded Crusaders.
Tuesday’s game against No. 19 National Christian proved to be one of those special outings for Johnson. The senior guard dropped 39 points, including five three-pointers, to help the Crusaders defeat their Capital Beltway rival, 77-62, in Upper Marlboro.
“I was shooting pretty good in warm-ups, so I knew it could be a good game for me,” said Johnson, who led the area in scoring with 29.5 points per game last season. “I don’t think [National Christian] expected me to be so hot in the first half. Honestly, I didn’t know I’d be that hot, either.”
Johnson scorched the Eagles’ zone defense for four three-pointers and 14 points in the first quarter, draining several shots from well behind the arc to give the Crusaders an early 22-11 advantage.
National Christian (11-4, 2-2 Capital Beltway) rallied back with its own proficient shooting in the second quarter. The Eagles knocked down three shots from long range and sophomore center Sylvester Ogbonda battled inside for six of his 10 points. After an 11-5 run, the Eagles held a 38-36 lead at the half.
Johnson began the second half with another long three, forcing the Eagles to switch to a box-and-one defense in hopes of slowing him down. For a few possessions, the adjustment worked, as the Crusader offense stalled on the perimeter. But Riverdale (15-6, 3-0) found a spark on the defensive backboard, which led to several transition buckets and a critical 8-0 run midway through the third quarter.
“Give National Christian credit because they kept fighting and did some things to throw off us a little bit,” Riverdale Coach Louis Wilson said. “But we found ways to exploit the middle of the defense and run some plays that freed up our guys inside.”
A putback by Eagles forward Zacarry Douglas (11 points) cut Riverdale’s lead to 59-58 with three minutes to play, but the senior missed the ensuing free throw. This trend surfaced throughout the closing quarter as the Eagles missed six of their eight foul shots. Meantime, the Crusaders converted on 14 of their 15 trips to the line in the fourth, with Johnson scoring nine of those points.
“I knew things would be harder for me in the second half so I tried to be more aggressive,” Johnson said, “I just kept telling my teammates it’s all about defense and rebounding, and we did that when it counted down the stretch.”