With only two seniors on the 15-man men’s basketball roster, senior James Johnson is undoubtedly the leader of the squad. Johnson, better known by the team as “Bo,” is a four-year starter and has started in 121 of the team’s 122 games in his collegiate career.
“Big, big leader. He’s the only senior on scholarship right now so we all follow his lead,” junior forward Jamee Jackson said. “It’s really his team, he’s been a four-year starter, sets great examples. We’re like his soldiers, he’s the general.”
Johnson has improved his ability to score each year, and led the team in scoring last season as a junior, averaging 16.1 points per game. He also leads the team in scoring this year at 16.6 points per game. Following Saturday’s loss to LIU-Brooklyn, he is 42 points shy of the program’s Division I scoring record.
“I know a lot of our young guys, we all follow him, look up to him,” junior guard Dave Johnson said. “Bo’s a great leader, he’s a good guy, he’s like a brother to me.”
But as the leader of this team and the only four-year starter on the squad, there is something James Johnson has yet to check off his to-do list: beat Robert Morris in the Northeast Conference tournament.
Each of the last three seasons, the Bobcats have been eliminated by Robert Morris in the NEC tournament, starting in Johnson’s freshman season. That year, they lost in the semifinals 75-48 at Robert Morris.
The following year, Quinnipiac won the NEC regular season title and made it to the NEC Championship game. A victory would have clinched the first NCAA tournament berth in program history. But again, Robert Morris was the challenger with an unexpected villain by the name of Velton Jones. The Colonial freshman crushed the Bobcats’ dreams by hitting a go-ahead floater with 1:18 left that sent Robert Morris to the big dance.
In his junior year, Johnson exacted as much revenge on Robert Morris as he could by dropping a career-high 38 points on 7-of-13 shooting from behind the arc to win 69-61 in a regular-season matchup.
“He’s been able to get revenge on those guys in the regular season a couple of times, but he and I both know and guys on the team know that we really won’t get revenge on them until the NEC tournament,” Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore said. “The finality of the NEC tournament, of losing in the NEC tournament at this level. It’s so hard to deal with because that’s the last game of your season.”
But in the playoffs, it was déjà vu for the Bobcats. Late in the game, Robert Morris called a timeout with the ball and 13 seconds left on the clock. Robert Morris’s Jones got the ball, dribbled to the right of the key and lofted a floater that found its way through the net and give the Colonials a 64-62 lead with 4.3 seconds left.
Johnson took the ball up the court, looking for a miracle and slipped as he threw up a prayer as he crossed midcourt. For the third straight year, the Queens-native had his season end by the team that is now Quinnipiac’s biggest conference rival.
“To have them eliminate us, (the) same team with a lot of the core same guys eliminate us on our court two straight years,” Moore said, “it has been difficult on everyone in the program.”
As Johnson’s collegiate career winds down, he continues to improve as the team’s leader.
“He has been very vocal in practice over the last two or three weeks about us improving defensively,” Moore said. “He’s taking at it as a source of pride and he’s explaining to our guys that we’re getting results because we’re committing to defense. So he’s spreading the word that I want spread to the team in a really positive way.”
Quinnipiac and Robert Morris have both clinched playoff berths and the two teams could meet again in the tournament, although this year it would be played at the Charles L. Sewall Center in Pittsburgh if the two teams meet.
“Eat or be eaten,” Jackson said. “It’s a must win, everyone’s going to be fired up, focused, no bigger game than that right there.”
Although Quinnipiac is 0-3 in the last three years against Robert Morris in the NEC tournament, the Bobcats are 3-0 against Robert Morris in the regular season.
“The fact that we’ve beaten them the last three times in the regular season helps because we’ve done it before. They know that it’s not something that’s impossible,” Moore said. “So the fact that they know they can beat them and some of the ideas that we have leading up to playing them work against them it’ll be an easier sell if we play them in the NEC tournament. It’ll be fun to play Robert Morris whether it’s here or down in Pittsburgh.”