Making an impact

Ohio freshman guard Miles Brown (23) has been welcome addition to the Bobcats’ defensive plans and ‘small ball’ lineup of late. Brown and the Bobcats play at Kent State on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 at 1 p.m. inside the M.A.C. Center.

With more than 2,900 points in high school, Miles Brown brought with him to Athens a reputation as an offensive dynamo.

But it’s been the freshman’s contributions defensively that have given the Bobcats a lift off the bench.

“It definitely wasn’t how I thought I’d help right away,” said Brown, a 6-1 point guard out of Rochester, N.Y.

But Ohio (12-12, 4-7 Mid-American Conference) has learned to integrate the hiccup-quick guard in a new, more pressure oriented, defensive approach of late. The Bobcats are playing smaller, and quicker, in stretches, and Brown’s off-the-bench defense has been a catalyst for OU during its two-game winning streak.

The Bobcats will bring that improving defense, more confident bench and newfound hope into Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup at Kent State (16-8, 6-5 MAC).

Brown is one reason OU is on an uptick going into its first meeting of the year against the Golden Flashes. A preseason leg injury hampered Brown in finding an early rhythm — he missed OU’s first 10 games this season — but his impact has been felt in the last two weeks as he’s come on a change-of-pace defender and ball-handler off the bench.

“He’s playing a really good level for us right now,” said Ohio head coach Jeff Boals. “He’s taking some pressure off of (point guard) Jay Preston — from a minutes standpoint, a ball handling standpoint.

“He’s another guy who can break you down off a ball screen and get in the paint.”

It’s true Brown has proven valuable in getting the minutes-heavy Preston some first-half breaks recently. He can even play with Preston, running the point and allowing the sophomore some less taxing possessions off the ball.

But it’s his impact defensively that has been the most noticeable. With exceptional quickness, Brown has proven adept at corralling his assignment, keeping them out of the lane and forcing them into mistakes.

“Defensively, he and (freshman) Lunden (McDay) have been our two on-the-ball defenders,” Boals said.

It’s been especially evident in the last three games. Brown has had three of his top four minutes games of the season in the span — 20, 16 and 13 minutes — and his ability to create havoc helped create momentum swings in the wins against Miami and Western Michigan.

“You get Miles and Lunden out there…those guys are two stoppers,” Preston said after Tuesday’s win over the Broncos. “We can press. We can get after it on defense and get easy buckets in transition.

“Miles Brown…that’s a great defender. He won’t just stay with you, he’ll cut you off.”

It’s been a bit surprising to see Brown impact games defensively given his resume in high school at Northstar Christian Academy. There he finished his career as the program’s all-time leading scorer, and third in New York state history behind Syracuse’s Joseph Girard III and NBA standout Lance Stephenson, with 2,914 career points.

Brown averaged 33.8 points a game as a senior, and once scored 53 in a single game.

But Brown’s defense was there as well, just less publicized.

“I knew coming in I’d be able to slide my feet and play some defense and picked up where we lacked in some areas,” Brown said.

Brown, it should be noted, also set a single-season program record in steals and set the state record with 458 steals over his career.

You need athletic ability and desire to be an effective defensive player. Brown has both. In fact, he credits part of his want-to on the defensive end to his twin brother (and fellow Bobcat) Michael.

“For sure. Growing up, he was always the defensive stopper and I was always the scorer. He really took that role on,” Miles Brown said. “As my game developed, I noticed I had to play defense I couldn’t just stop somebody from scoring.

“That really helped my game. Watching him play defense, really good defense actually, helped me be a two-way player.”

And by doing his part, Brown has helped Ohio’s defense — as a whole — improve in recent weeks. Along with freshman guard Ben Roderick, freshman center Nolan Foster and junior wing Connor Murrell, the Bobcats are now going nine deep and getting the kind of boost they had been looking for from the bench in key spots.

“Going off the bench (Boals) always talks about energy and effort, those are two things you can control,” Browns aid. “We just want to focus on bringing a lot of energy to the team and making sure our effort is 100 percent all the time.”

Moving on up

With 180 assists this season, sophomore PG Jason Preston has now moved into 10th place on Ohio’s single-season assist record list. He stands just five away from ninth place (Dennis Whitaker); only two players in Ohio history — D.J. Cooper and Jaaron Simmons — have managed to get 200 or more assist in a single season.

With 283 assists in his career, Preston closing in on the top 10 list over a career as well. He needs 311 to move past Dustin Ford and Robert Tatum into ninth place in the OU record book.

Fifth-year senior guard Jordan Dartis stands 16th in Ohio history with 1,372 career points. He has a chance on Saturday to pass Sanjay Adell (1998-200, 1,381 points) into 15th place. At No. 14 in the record book is Steve Esterkamp (2000-03) with 1,405 points.

About the Flashes

Kent State is the first game out of a six-game stretch where OU will face teams all ahead of them in the conference standings.

The Flashes grade well ahead of OU in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, and rank third in the MAC in both the NCAA Net Ratings and at KenPom.com.

Kent State took both meetings a year ago, and Ohio is just 7-10 against the Flashes since the start of the 2011-12 season. The Bobcats haven’t won at the M.A.C. Center since 2014.

The Flashes have lost two in a row, but sit at 10-2 in games on their home floor and will enter fresh having enjoyed a bye date on Tuesday night.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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