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From 1985: Tulsa’s Johnson sings it his way

Editor's note: This article originally was published on Feb. 10, 1985.

Herbert Johnson was having the time of his life.

He'd just wasted Wichita State with 32 points, 15 rebounds and some hot foul shooting down the stretch, and he strolled through the tunnel under the stands of Henry Levitt Arena singing, "We're gonna beat the hell out of you!" - an in-your-face rendition of the infamous Shockers cheer that was banned by WSU president, Dr. Warren Armstrong, who was nowhere around to throw Johnson out of the building.

"They can play that song all they want now, 'cause that's just what we did," said the Golden Hurricane's 6-10, 220-pound senior forward, once he had arrived safely in the Tulsa locker room.

Somebody turned on a jam box, and Johnson began moving in time to the pulsating beat, his mouth working over a stick of chewing gum, his face split in a grin as wide as the lane he'd owned all afternoon. And he kept on grinning. Hardly ever stopped. This game had meant a lot to Herbert Johnson.

''Someone like Xavier McDaniel, hey, they talk about this guy every day," he shouted over the jam box. "I wanted to go out there and prove I could play, too. I just overshadowed him. That's what I tried to do. Forty minutes, too!"

Well, 38 minutes, anyway. Johnson sat a couple of minutes in the second half with four fouls. And whether he overshadowed McDaniel, who countered with 31 points and 20 rebounds in 40 minutes, is probably better left to bar flies to decide. But Johnson surely had an X-rated game.

''Hey, I'm hot!" he yelled, almost losing his gum. "I want to go play some more! Yeah!"

In a quieter moment, he said, "When you get the opportunity to play against guys like Wayman Tisdale and Xavier, you want to go out there and play good, 'cause they the ones (everybody has) heard of. You trying to get to the top like I am, you gotta go play hard."

Johnson's afternoon made him the fifth-best rebounder and sixth-best scorer in Tulsa history. But he is one of the forwards in the Missouri Valley who is often overlooked, said his coach, Nolan Richardson. That is why Johnson, who had been averaging 16.7 points and 9.8 rebounds, seized the day. It was a chance to play some ball against the man, Xavier McDaniel, and do it on TV.

''I'm a senior," he said, "and I'm fighting hard to make it to the pros. My performance counts each time out. So tonight was a chance to go against an All-American. They come to see him, but maybe they write me down, too."

Tulsa guard Steve Harris has seen the same sort of thing from Johnson before. "Herbert thrives on playing the other teams' superstars, the guys that get a lot of press," Harris said. "I think Herbert proved tonight he could play with any other player in the country."

Johnson smoked from the opening tip, scoring 10 of Tulsa's first 12 points, and never cooled off. "You make it quick when you do it good," he said, cracking up.

''I wanted to come out and get in the flow and pick up the tempo. I think the tempo of the game kept me going and helped me keep my cool. I think if we play a slow-down, bang-around game, I sort of lose my cool, because I'm not a stand-around, banging player. But we got that ball to whipping, and I love that. I like to see other guys get tired so I can keep moving."

A withering Tulsa press is what got that ball to whipping. It made WSU go absolutely goofy. The Shockers rallied in the second half, but Johnson calmly helped Tulsa get control again by canning some critical free throws. "The other day when we finished practice, coach had us step aside and shoot 50 to 60 free throws because they'd be important in a game like this," he explained. He finished 8 of 12 from the line.

Defensively, Johnson helped teammate Vince Williams on McDaniel. Williams fronted the Shockers' star to keep the ball away from him, and Johnson filled in on the back side. "There's no doubt he played good," Johnson said of McDaniel, his chief motivator for the afternoon. "He's just a steady player, the kind of player that you look to draft. I wanted to show him I got consistency in my game, too."

Then came the grin again - a wide, satisfied grin. "I had some games where I played tremendous," said Johnson, "but I'm going to stick this one up on the shelf, too."

And it's bound to bring a smile whenever he looks at it.

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