By Shaun Chornobroff
Ajiri Ogemuno-Johnson has been thrust into a prominent role for the men’s basketball team after playing sparingly during his first two seasons in Lawrenceville.
The junior center has seen a mixed bag of results, but played his best game as a Bronc on Dec. 8 on the road against Niagara. The 6-foot-8 center dominated the Purple Eagles, scoring a career-high 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, in addition to grabbing seven rebounds in a crucial 76-70 win.
Ogemuno-Johnson and Head Coach Kevin Baggett both agreed that it was the best performance of his career, but it may not have happened without some advice from a former teammate.
“I was talking to Tyere Marshall the other day because he was my senior and I had to back up for him. He was just telling me a lot of things that he did successfully,” Ogemuno-Johnson said after his dominating performance. “My game is kind of similar to his, a little different, but he just tried to show me little things I can do to be better and I just took his advice and started showing out and playing to my strengths.”
Marshall, who was a former All-MAAC selection, graduated from the school in 2020 and is currently playing professionally in Portugal.
Ogemuno-Johnson was at his best when it mattered most. The junior scored five of Rider’s last seven points, including a layup that gave the Broncs a 72-70 lead.
Moments later Ogemuno-Johnson got fouled after receiving an inbounds pass and was sent to the free-throw line. The center who breaks the stereotype surrounding his position of big-men being unable to make shots from the charity stripe, converted on two free-throws to push the Rider lead to 74-70 and ice the game. Free throws have been one of the junior’s most consistent strengths, as he’s made 80.8% of his foul shots this season.
“I’ve been practicing a lot of free throws lately, I’ve been shooting them a lot. And I think I’ve been at the line a lot more this year than I have been in my whole career,” Ogemuno-Johnson said. “I’ve already been in situations like that where I made free throws, so it was an easy thing for me, I just had to relax and make them.”
Baggett did not hold back his praise of the veteran center after the game.
“He’s had games where he’s had segments here and there, spots here and there, but that’s the most complete from start to finish where I’ve seen him have success like that,” Baggett said of the junior center.
Despite his great performance, Ogemuno-Johnson is not resting on his laurels and knows Rider has another tough test against the Purple Eagles ahead.
“Tomorrow we just have to do everything better,” Ogemuno-Johnson said after his team’s third win of the season. “It was a close game today and we came up with the win, but tomorrow’s going to be a dogfight, so we need to come prepared to win.”
The “dogfight” as Ogemuno-Johnson referred to it, will take place on Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. as Rider once again faces Niagara on the road and tries to make itself 4-4 in MAAC play.