Johnson leads No. 5 Arizona into NIT semifinals
NOV 19, 2013 11:21p ET
Nick Johnson had 20 points, a career-high 10 rebounds and six assists to lead the fifth-ranked Wildcats to an 87-59 rout of Rhode Island Tuesday night in the second round of the NIT Season Tip-off.
Brandon Ashley added 16 points, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 13 and Aaron Gordon 12 for the Wildcats (5-0), who play Drexel in the tournament semifinals Nov. 27 in Madison Square Garden. No. 6 Duke plays Alabama in the other semifinal.
"I mean, it's big. Who wouldn't want to play in MSG?" Johnson said. "I mean, it's the biggest stage in basketball -- period. We knew that coming into the season."
Johnson's previous career high in rebounds was seven.
"I just made it a point today to go to the glass," he said. "I've got a few people on the bench telling me `Go to the glass, go to the glass.' If I get a rebound, that kills one pass that we have to make to our point guard or to one of our guards and we just get out on the break. So I've been trying to do that a little bit more, get us into our offense a little quicker."
Xavier Munford scored 20 on 6 for 16 shooting for the Rams, who never led. No other Rhode Island player reached double figures.
The Rams (3-2) lost their 21st straight against a ranked team.
The Wildcats led by 24 at halftime and as many as 32 after that.
"We were kind of shell-shocked," Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. "They're very good at both ends of the floor. They contest everything from the 3-point line and at the basket. I imagine that's as close to playing an NBA teams in terms of personnel and ability. That's as good a college basketball team as I've seen in person."
Coach Sean Miller wasn't surprised with what arguably was Johnson's most complete game yet.
"Each year that he's been at Arizona he's improved," Miller said. "His freshman year he was solid, his sophomore year he was better and I think I said this all pre-season, I look at him becoming an all-conference player. He reminds me a lot of the track that Solomon Hill was on -- each year adding on to the track of what he already did well."
Not everything Tuesday night earned Miller's approval.
Arizona got off to a sloppy start, with four early turnovers, and was up only 10-6 after Rhode Island's Biggie Minnis scored with 10:50 left in the game.
"For the first time coaching our team I really felt like the first eight minutes of the game we weren't a cohesive unit," Miller said. "I wouldn't call us selfish as much as we had a few of those `my turn' type of shots, where `I didn't get one last time so let me take one this time.' That never works out. It's a disaster waiting to happen."
The Wildcats scored six quick points, four by Johnson, in a 13-3 spurt that made it 23-9 on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson's dunk on a lob from T.J. McConnell with 6:54 left in the half. Munford's basket cut the lead to 23-11, then the Wildcats erupted in a 14-3 run. Gordon had a reverse dunk on a lob from McConnell, then Hollis-Jefferson sank a 3. Arizona led 37-14 and the rout was on.
In the final minute of the half, McConnell sank a 3 and Ashley made two from the foul line to put the Wildcats up 43-19 at the break.
The Rams shot 25 percent in the first half (7 for 28) to Arizona's 56 percent (18 of 32).
Arizona outscored Rhode Island 13-6 to start the second half to go up 56-25 on Johnson's two free throws with 15:20 to play.
The Rams, who struggled to beat Metro State 66-63 in the first round Monday night, put together a 19-7 run that cut the lead to 63-44 on a pair of free throws by Munford with 8:46 to play. Rhode Island had a chance to get closer but Gordon blocked Matthew Butler's shot and Gabe York sank a 3-pointer. Rhode Island never got it under 20 again.
Rhode Island's last victory over a ranked team came against then-No. 25 Utah on Dec. 2, 1998.