March 13, 1998
CHICAGO (AP) – Rashod Johnson needed to share the biggest and most important performance of his basketball career. So he did what any actor might do.
He bowed to his fans.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever bowed. It just happened. I don’t know what to say,” Johnson said Friday after hitting eight 3-pointers to lead Western Michigan past Clemson 75-72 in the Midwest Regional.
“I just wanted to thank the crowd for being here. I try to show emotion on the floor.”
Western Michigan (21-7), the 11th seed, showed it belongs in the NCAA tournament in its first appearance since 1976.
The Broncos used their quickness to build a big lead and then didn’t fade after Clemson (18-14) rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to take a six-point lead.
Johnson converted a go-ahead four-point play with 1:31 left, and added another 3-pointer. He then began waving his arms as the Broncos moved closer to completing their upset of the sixth-seeded Tigers.
Johnson, who picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, played the final 10 minutes without fouling out. He finished with a career-high 32 points and tied a region record with his eight 3s.
“He is an emotional youngster. Some kids do some of the things he does and you’d say he’s being a phony but that’s really Rashod,” Western Michigan coach Bob Donewald said.
“That’s his personality. He’s just one of these youngsters that can make those shots. That four-point play was a very big play.”
Saddi Washington added 24 points for Western.
Harold Jamison, who picked up two fouls in the first minute of the game, scored all 14 of his points in the second half to lead Clemson. Greg Buckner, who had three fouls during a scoreless first half, finished with 12 for the Tigers.
With the game tied at 65, Johnson was fouled by Johnny Miller on a 3-pointer and then hit his free throw to push Western ahead by four.
“Coach always tells me that I fall down on 3-pointers. He hit my arm and I fell down and yelled a little and he called the foul,” Johnson said with a laugh.
“We knew that Rashod and Saddi would be their team,” Clemson coach Rick Barnes said. “That’s what they depend on and we did not do what we had to do with those two guys. They deserved to win.”
Johnson, who was 8-of-15 on 3-pointers, and Washington combined to take 43 of Western’s 61 field goal attempts.
“The guys screened and got me and Saddi the ball when we were open,” Johnson said. “You always want the ball at the end because if we are going to lose, I wanted to lose the game.”
After Buckner converted a three-point play to pull the Tigers within one, Johnson hit a lean-in 3-pointer to put the Broncos up 72-68 with 46 seconds left.
Washington had two free throws with 38 seconds left to make it 74-70 before Jamison’s tip with 19 seconds to go brought the Tigers within 74-72. Johnson made one of two free throws a second later to make it a three-point lead.
After the teams exchanged turnovers, the Tigers got two more shots but missed on 3-pointers and Western’s players rushed to the other end of the floor in jubilation.
Western led 45-29 early in the second half before Clemson, behind three 3-pointers from Tony Christie, went on a 34-12 run to go up 63-57 with just over four minutes left.
“We got up six and we thought we had a good chance of winning,” Buckner said. “Then Rashod came down and hit the two big 3s. That really cut us back.”
Western will be playing Sunday against either Stanford or College of Charleston when many thought they’d be back home in Kalamazoo.
“People told us we weren’t supposed to be here, that we were the underdogs. And we were the underdogs all day today even when we were ahead,” Johnson said.
“It’s easy to get satisfied just with being here. We wanted to win a basketball game.”
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