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Quinnipiac senior guard James Johnson took his final shot of his collegiate basketball career as the buzzer sounded at the Wellness Recreation and Athletic Center Sunday night. He bent over and crouched down, staring at the floor. He couldn’t bear to watch the LIU-Brooklyn players celebrate.
After all, it would be the last time he put on the blue and gold jersey with the number 3 across it.
Johnson’s career ends with his name etched into Quinnipiac’s record books, as he broke the Division I program scoring record last Thursday, finishing with 1,713 points. But his legacy means so much more.
He transformed the program from a team that barely made the Northeast Conference tournament to one that became a perennial conference contender.
Some will say he never completed his ultimate goal: getting to the Big Dance. He came so close as a sophomore, falling two points shy to Robert Morris in the conference finals at home. The next year, he lost by two to the same team in the same place, but in the semifinals.
Even in his freshman season, the Bobcats lost to Robert Morris in the conference semis.
He got one monkey off his back on Feb. 25, as he scored eight points in the final 2:30 to beat the Colonials in his last home game, but he still never managed to beat them in the playoffs. Had Quinnipiac won on Sunday, he would have gotten one final chance, as the conference championship game would have been at Robert Morris Wednesday.
Instead, Johnson let the game slip away. He was called for a crucial charge with 3:12 to play that could have tied the game at 71, and later missed an open layup with 28 seconds remaining to cut a three-point deficit to one.
But he did not lose the game. Rather, the Blackbirds won it. NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd put the team on his shoulders and made clutch shot after clutch shot to give the Blackbirds an opportunity to repeat as conference champions.
Though Bo and the Bobcats had issues on and off the court, Johnson still managed to lead a team that featured nine newcomers to the conference semifinals. With five new players logging at least seven minutes per game and two freshmen in the starting lineup, the team relied on Johnson for experience and leadership.
After the buzzer sounded, Johnson gazed at the ground, recollecting on four years of college basketball. He played and started in all but one game and set the program record for consecutive starts. He broke records. He was the face of the team.
The rest of his teammates knew how much of an icon he was to the team. Every player consoled him after the game. They knew what winning would have meant to him, and what he meant to the program.
He shook hands with the other team and before going to the locker room, walked aimlessly around the court. He couldn’t keep his emotions in as tears dripped from his eyes.
He was the ultimate warrior on the court. He never stopped competing. From beginning to end, he gave his all.
It’s not the rings that show what he meant to the program. It’s the heart and soul he put into making the program grow.