Robert Johnson’s emotions got to him just one line into his senior night speech.
“It’s always been a dream of mine since I was younger to play at a program like this,” Johnson said before stopping himself.
The tears were coming soon. He knew it, and the crowd knew it too. The stunned fans that remained inside Assembly Hall after Ohio State’s wild game-winning 3-pointer in double overtime filled the void of Johnson’s pause with a loud ovation. They were showing respect to the four-year starter and 1,000-point scorer who, despite being around every big moment of IU’s last four seasons, could be considered underappreciated.
Johnson ultimately composed himself and got the rest of his speech back on track in the same fashion he turned his senior season around after a shaky beginning. He thanked former IU Coach Tom Crean for recruiting him, and current IU Coach Archie Miller for embracing him. By the end of it all, Johnson earned another standing ovation worthy of the on-court turnaround he delivered over the past few months.
After a loss to Louisville on Dec. 9 that saw Johnson go scoreless in 35 minutes, he was averaging just 11.4 points per game. Beginning with the win over Notre Dame the following week, and continuing on into the rest of Big Ten play, Johnson averaged nearly 16 points per game and shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range in his final 20 games.
“I think my teammates and I have done a good job of sticking with it throughout the season and trying to get better regardless of what point of the season we’re at,” Johnson said.
Friday night marked the end of Johnson’s final regular season as a Hoosier, and he provided another one of the consistent performances that helped a rebuilding team go .500 in the Big Ten. His 17 points and four assists weren’t enough to get his team over the hump, but Johnson carried IU through a first half where junior forward Juwan Morgan dealt with foul trouble.
For Miller, recognition of IU’s seniors allowed him to praise the Hoosiers’ elder statesmen for being “unbelievably coachable.” He didn’t recruit the group to Bloomington, and appeared to struggle getting them to buy in at times early in the season. But ultimately, Miller saw commitment and dedication from his seniors, and it all centered around Johnson.
“Rob’s been an absolute stud for us all year,” Miller said.
Johnson’s college career isn’t over yet. His career inside Assembly Hall might not be finished either, as a potential NIT berth looms over the Hoosiers’ trip to New York next week for the conference tournament.
But Friday was the time for Johnson to be thanked, and for him to dish out some thanks himself. As he took in the moment and continued his speech, Johnson seemed to realize the value of the experience his time at IU offered.
“I thank God for giving me this opportunity,” Johnson said. “I just hope that along the way, I impacted someone else and inspired someone else to be better.”
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