Last semester, he was miles away studying abroad in Valencia, Spain, but as Emerson’s men’s basketball team tries to strengthen its defense, sophomore guard Alex Miles’ return may be just what the doctor ordered.
Miles re-entered the Lions’ lineup in his native California on Dec. 28 when the team traveled to Los Angeles for two nonconference games. Head coach Bill Curley said Miles provides an immediate jolt where Emerson needs one—on defense.
“We think he might be the best on-ball defender,” Curley said. “We think he can really help our defense, and get up and harass people.”
With Geoff Gray entrenched at point guard, Miles is averaging just under 11 minutes per night through his first seven games back. With the Lions ceding a conference-worst 79.4 points per game to opponents, his aggressive defense should continue to produce playing time.
Miles said he thrives on guarding the best players on rival teams.
“I usually like to start off the game pretty up in people’s faces and pressure them, and sort of wear them down, and then toward the end of the game I turn it up even a little bit more so once they’re tired they get a little bit lackadaisical with the ball and force turnovers,” Miles said. “Especially if it’s a close game, they’ll put me on the better players and sort of lock them up.”
Miles, a marketing communication major, said he studied in Spain through the Berklee College of Music, focusing on global entertainment.
Emerson is currently mired in a seven-game losing streak, including an 0-5 record to start NEWMAC play. With six of their final nine games set to feature opponents that finished above the Lions in last season’s standings, junior forward and captain John Geary said he hopes to see a turnaround in short order.
“We’ve tried to make sure that it doesn’t get into guys’ heads too much,” Geary said. “You don’t want to make losing a habit, you want it to be something that you correct and you correct quickly. We’ve really made an emphasis to try to make our practices more intense, to try to simulate more like games, to make them even tougher than games.”
Geary said recent practices have focused on boxing out, proper defensive footwork, and reviewing scouting reports to determine strengths and weaknesses of upcoming opponents.
The Lions have dropped conference matchups against Babson, Coast Guard, Clark, WPI, and Wheaton. They were outrebounded in four of the five losses, but did best WPI on the boards, 41-30, which Curley expressed cautious optimism about.
“For us to meet their physicality and be able to do that well on the boards I think is a huge step for us,” Curley said. “The thing that’s haunted us all year [is,] ‘Can we come back and do it the next game?’”
Gray leads the team with 131 rebounds, followed by Michael Sheng (71), Geary (66), and Alex Mrusek (64). The spring graduation of center Austin Pinckney left the Lions exposed on the glass. In their 66-56 loss to Clark, the Cougars outscored Emerson 14-3 on second chance points.
Geary said the entire roster has to chip in to reverse the team’s rebounding fortunes.
“We’re somewhat undersized,” Geary said. “We only really have two true big post men, so we all have to rebound. We have to do it by committee and everybody’s got to box out their man.”
O’Connor likely out for season
Freshman transfer Jack O’Connor looked like a mid-season revelation for Emerson, but it appears his introduction to a full home crowd may have to wait until the fall. Curley said O’Connor sprained his ankle in the Lions’ loss to Clark on Jan. 11, and doctors suggest the injury will likely be season ending.
The 6-foot-4-inch O’Connor, who transferred from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, added size down low, getting to the free throw line 15 times and converting on 12 of those shots. In 13 minutes against Coast Guard, O’Connor scored 10 points and made seven of 10 free throws. He was named the “Lion of the Week” by the athletics department on Jan. 10.
“We think he has a huge future ahead of him, and [is] really going to make an impact on this school and the team,” Curley said.
The Lions’ late December trip to Los Angeles for games against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer ended with consecutive defeats, but Curley said the value of the trip went beyond the stat sheet.
Because of the size of the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym, the basketball team typically only has two hoops at their disposal during practices. Finding baskets wasn’t a problem in the Golden State.
“It was awesome being able to practice with six to eight baskets in the gym, so we got a lot of shooting in that we’re just not able to do here,” Curley said.
The West Coast swing also gave three Lions players—Sheng, Miles, and junior forward Corey Fitz—a chance to lace up in their home state. Sheng scored 16 points in the 84-73 loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, and Fitz contributed eight points on the trip. Miles was limited to 17 total minutes in his first two games of the year, but said his parents got a rare opportunity to watch him play.
The Lions (4-12, 0-5) will be back on their home court to face MIT (12-4, 4-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. Emerson lost its first five conference games last season before pulling off an upset victory over MIT on the road to jump-start a playoff run.