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The defensive impact of Myles Johnson

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The Rutgers big man has established himself as one of the best frontcourt players in the Big Ten.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Myles Johnson is well spoken and mild mannered off the court, but this season he has quietly developed into a monster on the defensive end. The 6’11” redshirt junior stood out as the biggest reason Indiana star Trayce Jackson-Davis had a below average performance in the loss to Rutgers on Sunday. He was held to just 13 points on 4 of 10 shooting after entering the game averaging 20.6 points on 54.2% shooting.

Jackson-Davis, a contender for First Team All-Big Ten, was also limited to 7 boards and committed 4 turnovers. Johnson registered 5 blocks and 3 steals, in addition to scoring 8 points and grabbing 8 rebounds.

Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell praised Johnson after the win, stating “I thought Myles did an unbelievable job. Trayce Jackson-Davis, one of the best players in players in the country averages 20 points a game and had had 30s in games, did a really good job on him as best as you can do. Myles (Johnson) stepped up.”

Indiana head coach Archie Miller praised Johnson as well, going in depth on what makes him such a dominant defender.

Miller said, “I will say this that Myles Johnson is one of the best interior defenders in the country. I have been saying that since he was a young guy. He has unbelievable instincts in stealing the ball as a big guy; around the shoulders of the post guys, elbow catches, deflected passes. He has quick hands and unbelievable length. The thing is he does a great job at doing it. He can stay between you and the basket with his size, but he also has unbelievable timing when he blocks shots. I think early in the game it takes a while to get used to, playing against a guy like him because its not easy. As the game went on, you can tell how he impacted the game with his defensive plays. Trayce didn’t get as many clean ones. You couldn’t get it to him as much. It is a by-product of their team in general. Defensively, they are always known for their stickiness, but he definitely impacts the game on a defensive front. This wasn’t one his best offensive performances, and you have to give Rutgers credit for that.”

Sunday was no fluke as Johnson is putting together an impressive defensive campaign statistically. He currently has the second best defensive rebounding rate, block rate and steal rate in Big Ten play. Overall, Johnson has now had seven multi-steal games, six games with at least three blocks, and five double digit rebounding performances.

As a team, Rutgers has the highest block and steal rates in Big Ten play and a major reason why is the play of Johnson.

After struggling with foul trouble earlier this season with three consecutive games of 4 fouls, followed by fouling out at Ohio State, Johnson has not amassed more than 3 fouls in his past seven games. That demonstrates his ability to adjust to how he is being officiated and it’s only made him an even more effective rim defender.

Johnson has also been extremely efficient on the offensive end, as he is currently 5th in Big Ten play in effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding rate, while also having the 8th best free throw rate. Converting from the foul line has been the only deficiency in his game (32%), but Johnson is also 5th in Big Ten play in shooting 64.3% from two-point range. His value on both ends of the floor is significant.

Thursday is a big test for Rutgers and Johnson, as they face Michigan State for the second time this month. The first meeting in East Lansing was a disaster, as the Spartans dominated RU 68-45. Johnson was one of many Scarlet Knights who struggled, scoring just 2 points including 0-7 from the line. Even though he had 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals, MSU big man Joey Hauser outplayed him with a 9 point, 12 rebound night. With Hauser more of a perimeter oriented center, Johnson will need to be active on the defensive end.

The Spartans will be playing its first game in three weeks due to a pause with COVID-19 positive results in the program. If Rutgers can apply defensive pressure and contest every shot, it won’t make it an easy return for MSU. Johnson’s presence in the paint is a big key to the game.

He has proved his ability to adapt and improve throughout his Rutgers career. The former 3-star recruit without any high major offers other than Rutgers has developed into one of the best big men in the Big Ten this season. He’ll have another opportunity to prove it on Thursday, as Rutgers looks to beat Michigan State for the first time ever and win back to back games for the first time since mid-December. If the Scarlet Knights are going to make a run to the NCAA Tournament, it will be because of its defense and its anchor is Johnson.