GREENSBORO -- It's a shot Markell Johnson said he takes every day at the end of practice. Before heading to the locker room to show and change, the senior guard will grab a ball, jog to halfcourt and fire up a shot.
That almost always misses.
Apparently he's saving his makes for games, when his team needs them the most.
His halfcourt buzzer beater on Dec. 4 against Wisconsin just before halftime helped give NC State a lead and the momentum it needed to surge to victory in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at PNC Arena.
Two games later, Johnson did it again. Only this time it was even more dramatic. And much more important.
His desperation heave from nearly the same spot Saturday at Greensboro Coliseumhit nothing but net as the buzzer sounded, breaking a tie and giving the Wolfpack a wild 80-77 win at UNC Greensboro.
"I shoot them every day after practice when Keatts calls practice in," Johnson said. "I haven't made it in practice since the Wisconsin game."
Johnson's game-winning 3-pointer came only moments after UNCG's Isaiah Miller backed him into the lane and hit a tough jumper to tie the game at 77 with 2.1 seconds remaining Miller led the Spartans with 26 points.
But just as it appeared as though the game would be headed to overtime, the Wolfpack star took an inbound pass from teammate Jericole Hellems, dribbled once and let fly on the dead run.
Against Wisconsin, he said that he had his eyes closed when he made his halftime shot. This time, those eyes were focused squarely on the prize.
"I was locked in on that shot," he said. "Very locked in."
"Get it up before time ran out ... that was the only thing that was going through my mind at a moment like that," Johnson added. "I tried to get a defensive stop at the other end and the guy scored, so I was just trying to get it back."
Johnson's winning shot ended a seesaw game that saw State come out with a hot hand from 3-point range while building a 12-point first half lead, only to see the Spartans (8-3 surge from behind to go ahead early in the second.
State (8-2) regained control with a 12-2 lead and never trailed again. But it took until the final buzzer before it could finally put its pesky Southern Conference opponent away and avoid a second straight upset loss to UNCG.
Johnson was immediately mobbed by his teammates as the large contingent of Wolfpack fans among the 7,469 that were in attendance, pushing him up against the scorer's table.
"I don't know what was up with those guys, trying to tackle me on the court," the Wolfpack hero said. "But it was definitely a good feeling.
Johnson said his shot "felt right" when it left his hands. Teammate D.J. Funderburk was a lot more certain, raising his hands in triumph when the ball was still halfway to the basket.
Over on the bench, Pat Andree and the other reserves were equally as optimistic.
."Everybody at the time it went up said 'That's going in,'" said Andree, the graduate transfer who started in place of Hellems and scored a season and Wolfpack high 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting from 3-point range.
"We have confidence in Markell to hit that. We've seen him do it. It's crazy, all the guys on our team thought he can throw up a 50-60 footer and we all think it's going in."
Coach Kevin Keatts, as he did after the Wisconsin game, jokingly took credit for Johnson's long-range prayer that was answered.
"It's the second time this year I've drawn up a play for Markell to make a (halfcourt) shot," he said. "So I'm a heck of a coach for that."
Johnson led the Wolfpack in scoring with 19 points, going 8 of 16 from the floor, mostly by taking his man one-on-one with agressive drives to the basket. He also led the team with seven assist.
"He was having a good night," Keatts, turning serious, said of his senior point guard. "He was feeling it. Markell is a kid that never asks for the basketball and he was telling me to run a couple of plays for (him). He was feeling it at the time. He just made a big play. it's a good play. It sealed the win. I'm excited we got it."
UNCG, which also lost on a halfcourt buzzer-beater at home to Montana State earlier this season, was understandably less thrilled about the ending.
"You're kind of in a little daze until you see the ball bounce off that rim," Spartans big man James Dickey said. I really didn't think anything. I was just kind of watching like a movie. It was a scary one today."