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Isiah Brown sparks Northwestern to victory

The freshman guard stepped up in a big way on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

At a glance, Isiah Brown’s performance against Ohio State appears unremarkable. A quick look at the box score doesn’t do his play justice, though. Here’s a video analysis of how Brown helped spur Northwestern to a critical win on Sunday.

Offensive Aggression

Brown’s greatest skill is his ability to attack the basket and get to the foul line. Against the Buckeyes, he was relentless in his pursuit of the rim. In the first half, his scoring punch helped the Wildcats after their cold start from the field. Watch as he uses a screen to get downhill:

NOTE: All video courtesy of BTN2Go.

Once Brown has a head full of steam, he can zip to the basket in a flash. With Vic Law and Nate Taphorn on the other side of the court, Brown realizes he’s got plenty of room to operate on the near side of the floor, so he calls for a pick to give him a head start. From there, he uses great touch to get the shot to fall.

Brown was also aggressive in transition. He used Ohio State’s retreat to defense as an opportunity to speed the game up and get to the rim:

The Buckeyes’ defense isn’t set, allowing Brown to barrel into the lane. Ohio State is forced to send a help defender, resulting in Brown getting fouled. Later in the half, Brown again attacked in transition, but was able to draw in the defense to give Gavin Skelly an open jump shot:

As Brown enters the paint, Skelly creeps toward the baseline, out of his defender’s line of sight. Instead of attending to Skelly, he reacts to Brown’s drive, leaving his man wide open. Brown makes the correct read, taking the help and finding the open man.

All game, Brown attracted the attention of multiple defenders. Instead of being goaded into putting up difficult shots, Brown exploited the Buckeyes’ help defense, gifting his teammates with easy buckets:

When he comes off of Dererk Pardon’s screen, Brown is immediately crowded by two defenders. There’s a sliver of space between them though, and Brown is able to slip a bounce pass through to Pardon for the jam. In order for that to work, Brown needed to read the situation promptly and get rid of the ball before Ohio State rotated another defender onto Pardon. He did so, resulting in an open dunk.

He also had an excellent hockey assist late in the game, yet again taking advantage of the Buckeyes’ helpers:

When Brown drives, he draws the attention of not just his man, but Pardon’s and Sanjay Lumpkin’s, too. He then pitches the ball back to McIntosh, who has a better angle to get the ball to Lumpkin, who is wide open in the corner. Since his man was still in the paint after helping on Brown’s drive, Lumpkin uses a pump fake to get himself an easy midrange jump shot.

As Brown gets more minutes under his belt, he’ll continue to use his assaults on the rim as a way to get his teammates good looks. Sunday’s game was a promising glimpse into the future.

Defensive Intensity

Brown’s defense is a work in progress, but he showed flashes of his potential on that end against Ohio State. What Brown lacks in height he makes up for with quickness. Watch as he is able to sneak up behind Marc Loving to block his jump shot:

Loving has six inches on Brown, making the block even more impressive. Brown looks like toast when Loving receives a handoff, giving him ample space to fire away. Brown accelerates, though, and reaches to block the shot.

Here’s another example of how Brown’s speed can make him effective in helping and recovery situations:

Brown helps on a drive, recovers to the three-point line to close out on a shooter and then gets in position to force JaQuan Lyle into flubbing the ball away. It’s fair to argue that opposing players can simply rise above Brown and still have room to shoot, but the fact that Brown is making the correct rotations shows how much he’s improved since the start of the season.

Finally, here’s the play that Chris Collins said was crucial to the team’s win:

Brown anticipates the pass, poking it away and ahead. He uses his quickness to to zoom up the floor and lay the ball in, forcing a Buckeye timeout. That’s not a pass you can plan for. That kind of play rests on players’ instincts, and Brown read it perfectly.

The numbers won’t show it, but Brown was a key part of Sunday’s historic victory. With 11 games left in conference play, Northwestern needs all hands on deck if it wants to continue to break new ground. If Brown can continue to contribute like he did against Ohio State, the Wildcats will have another quality player in the rotation.