In fact, Johnson did not even play in five of the Golden Eagles' games before Thursday night, including four of the team's first seven conference tests. Nevertheless, when the game tipped off, Johnson was on the floor with Burton and regular starters Derrick Wilson, Jamil Wilson and Chris Otule.
However, when the game was through, the final box score did not show much deviation from the norm. Derrick Wilson, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner were not far off their season averages as they led the team with 30, 27 and 25 minutes, respectively. Todd Mayo and Jake Thomas also played more than 20 minutes, which is on par with the usual. However, Mayo played one minute more than Thomas, despite averaging six minutes per game fewer than the redshirt senior.
JaJuan Johnson picked up 12 minutes at shooting guard, which is the most he had played since Jan. 9 at Xavier. Additionally, Deonte Burton was on the floor more than in the previous four games and played two minutes more than his season average. Williams was asked after the game if those subtle tweaks to the freshmen's playing time were permanent.
“I don't care how old you are. It's just, let's see how this works … I'm not saying that's a game-to-game thing, but I thought it worked out OK,” he responded.
That new lineup started working right off the bat, as Johnson and Burton combined for six of the team's first eight points, propelling Marquette to an 8-2 lead before the first media timeout. Coming out of the break, Buzz Williams implemented one of his famous line changes as he subbed in John Dawson, Todd Mayo, Juan Anderson and Steve Taylor to play alongside Davante Gardner, who had relieved Otule right before the 16 minute mark.
Williams made another five-for-five substitution just four minutes later, as he returned his starters to the floor, with the exception of Johnson, who was replaced with Jake Thomas. After the game, the coach said he used this substitution method to keep his players fresh and counter Providence's lack of depth.
“We're going to play two games in 40 hours, that would probably be the first thing,” Williams said. “The second thing is, Providence is playing with six players. We had 11, 10 of which played double-figure minutes. So I thought, particularly in the first half, if we could somewhat come in waves with energy, playing full court defensively and full court offensively, we scored 26 points in transition, which is the highest we've scored all year.”
Williams also mentioned that this game provided yet another opportunity for his young players to prove their worth.
“Some of it is, here is your chance,” Williams said. “What are you going to do with it?”
When asked if this game was an indicator of the team's rotation for the rest of the season, Williams said: “Running them in waves the way we did in the first half was kind of a balance of all of it. Not who started, not how old they are, not where they're from, not what they did the last game or the game before, but what gives us our best chance today from start to finish to win?”