Junior forward Johnson carrying Hilltoppers

WKU forward Justin Johnson (23) looks to pass as he surrounded by University of Texas at El Passo during Hilltoppers 65-62 victory on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017 at Diddle Arena.

Evan Heichelbech

Despite his team’s mediocre 12-12 record, one Hilltopper is playing his best basketball in the midst of conference play.

WKU junior forward Justin Johnson was named the Conference USA Player of the Week on Monday afternoon after notching four straight double-doubles dating back to the Hilltoppers’ 65-62 win over UTEP on Jan. 26.

Following a 23-point, 10-rebound performance in a loss to Louisiana Tech on Thursday, Johnson turned in a 12-point, 15-rebound effort in a bounce-back win over Southern Mississippi on Saturday.

Johnson shot 56 percent from the floor in 33 minutes per game last week while turning the ball over just once.

“He’s been doing great just being our force down low and rebounding the ball,” senior guard Junior Lomomba told the media following the win at Southern Miss. “I think he’s been rebounding the ball very well.”

After averaging 7.9 rebounds per game last season, the Hazard veteran is leading the 2016-2017 Hilltoppers in rebounding at 8.7 per game. Over the span of his current double-double streak, Johnson is pulling in just under 12 boards every time he steps on the hardwood.

“Justin’s playing well,” Head Coach Rick Stansbury told the media on Thursday. “He saw a double team early in that first half, and then we went small and kept them from doubling him. They didn’t want to double off of Que [Johnson]. That allowed him to attack the basket one-on-one.”

Stansbury also talked about how his team has been prone to dig itself into inescapable holes, which is what happened in Ruston.

In the game at LA Tech — a game WKU came up short in a nine-point loss to the Bulldogs — Johnson was more productive, statistically speaking. He totaled a season-high 23 points, but his team failed to get the victory.

Saturday was a different story. Johnson’s stat line was more balanced, and so was the team’s scoring. Senior guards Pancake Thomas and Que Johnson went for 18 and 11 points, respectively, as WKU controlled the game and pulled away for a 17-point victory.

When asked about Johnson’s production again, Stansbury offered a short, accurate assessment of how the team’s success correlates to Johnson’s.

“Justin was efficient,” the first-year head coach told the media on Saturday. “Overall, it was a team effort considering those guys coming off the bench and adding to it too.”

Johnson’s Player of the Week honors are the first weekly award for any Hilltopper this season, and the first overall since former WKU forward George Fant shared the honor in January of 2015. It’s also the first time a WKU player has claimed such honors outright since the Hilltoppers joined C-USA in 2015.

Fant’s eight consecutive double-doubles in the 2014-2015 season were the last time any WKU player had a streak greater than the four Johnson has going now.

Johnson will try to keep his career-long double-double streak alive when he and his team take the court next inside Diddle Arena on Saturday against Marshall.

Reporter Evan Heichelbech can be reached at 502-415-1817 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @evanheich.