Watson’s D limited WKU star forward
HUNTINGTON - Just about every time Western Kentucky University’s Justin Johnson caught the basketball Saturday night Marshall’s Rondale Watson was there.
Johnson is one of Conference USA’s best inside players, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound senior all-conference forward who had 27 points when the Hilltoppers won a Jan. 6 men’s basketball game, 112-87, in Cam Henderson Center. He has strong power moves, and he can make outside shots too. He has more than 1,400 career points.
But, whatever Johnson did Saturday, the 6-4, 188-pound Watson was in his way.
Western Kentucky won the game, 85-74 on its E.A. Diddle Arena home court, but Watson had a major role in limiting Johnson to eight points on 3-for-10 shooting.
“When I went in there I just competed and tried to maintain him as much as I can,” said Watson, a junior who came from off the bench to play for 33 of the 40 minutes. “I think it actually worked for us. Him not getting the ball affected their offense. Other guys made plays, unfortunately.”
Marshall (14-7) is fourth in the C-USA standings behind Middle Tennessee (8-1), Old Dominion (7-1) and Western Kentucky (7-1) with a two-game Texas road swing on the docket this week. Marshall visits UTSA (11-11, 4-5) for an 8 p.m. Thursday game televised on the beIN Sports network and moves to UTEP to play a 9 p.m. Saturday game.
A Big Green Scholarship Foundation game watching party Thursday for Marshall-UTSA is at Fat Patty’s on Third Avenue between Cam Henderson Center and Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Admission to the 7:30 p.m. party is free, but Marshall fans must purchase their own food and beverages.
Johnson has the body of a football player and he almost became a tight end for the Hilltoppers last season. He bulked up about 20 pounds and spent spring practice, summer workouts and the beginning of fall camp with the football team, but decided to return to basketball after dealing with a knee injury.
Marshall head coach Dan D’Antoni said it’s not often you see a player of Johnson’s ability get held to eight points with a 6-3 player guarding him, and obviously Watson did a great job.
Johnson was actually heading for a five-point night until scoring on a dunk and making a foul shot in the final 27 seconds.
The Herd set up its defensive strategy ahead of time. D’Antoni said the plan was for either Watson or 6-4 junior guard C.J. Burks play in front of Johnson in the lane, turn him to the baseline and have 6-9 forward Ajdin Penava provide help from behind.
Watson said he used positioning because he couldn’t muscle the bigger, stronger Johnson.
“In the game I think he was getting frustrated,” Watson said. “He was having conversations with the refs. I think I played him straight up and did a good job of fronting him.”
Marshall’s tactics went into play because Penava was in foul trouble, 6-8 freshman Jannson Williams left the game after four minutes because of an ankle sprain and 6-9 senior Milan Mijovic was ineffective in a brief appearance. Don’t be surprised to Marshall use similar defensive strategy in future games against C-USA teams such as UAB with 6-8, 238-pound Chris Cokely and Old Dominion with 67-, 240-pound Brandan Stith.
“It seemed to work pretty good, but you never know game to game,” D’Antoni said.