Eugene Brown has been on the brink of a breakthrough more than once this season.
Unfortunately for the sophomore Buckeye guard, small setbacks have popped up to stunt that progress on each occasion. Brown’s latest affliction is a toe injury that forced him to sit out of Ohio State’s Sunday win over Maryland, as the Georgia native wore a walking boot on his left foot during pregame warmups. The issue isn’t expected to keep him out long, but the timing isn’t ideal for a player who was coming off of perhaps the best stretch of his young career.
Eugene Brown joins Seth Towns and Justice Sueing on Ohio States unavailable list today. Brown was wearing a boot in warmups.— Griffin Strom (@GriffinStrom3) February 6, 2022
He had been averaging 7.7 ppg in his past three appearances.
“It was more of a rest situation for him, trying to get him some rest from a bit of a toe injury that he has. When to expect him back? Not sure, but I think it’s gonna be sooner rather than later,” Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann said during his radio show Monday. “I’ve been disappointed for him because he’s had stretches where he’s got in a rhythm, played really well – he’s probably played as well in this stretch as he had all season – and then he has a little injury.
“But he’ll bounce back from it. He’s had a go of it; he had a concussion along with some other illnesses and now this, that’s kind of interrupted his time this year.”
After adding 10 pounds of muscle over the offseason, the 6-foot-6 wing stood out both in an open preseason practice session and in the Buckeyes’ exhibition against Indianapolis, a contest in which he led all scorers with 15 points.
Brown played just 13 minutes combined in the first two official games of the season against Akron and Niagara, but flashed once again with a 12-point performance when given a longer leash against Bowling Green. Brown pulled down eight rebounds – including four offensive boards – in just 11 minutes in the very next game on the road at Xavier before suffering a concussion that forced him to sit out the next four games.
“He really pursues the ball, and we miss that impact on the glass when he’s not in the game at the wing spot,” Holtmann said. “We don’t have another wing that really gets to the glass like he does, so it’s an important part of his game.”
Upon his return, Brown didn’t do a whole lot in his 8.8 minutes per game over the next six games for Ohio State. But in the four after that, the three-star recruit began to take visible strides once again. In games against Penn State, IUPUI, Minnesota and Purdue, Brown saw his minutes increase to 17.8 per game while he averaged 7.3 points on 52.9 percent shooting.
Brown started the second half in place of Justin Ahrens against IUPUI, a game in which he scored a career-high 14 points, and he was even more impressive against Purdue. In a hostile environment against what might be the best team in the Big Ten, Brown helped spark a frenzied comeback attempt in the second half, scoring seven of his nine points in the final frame as the Buckeyes went from down 20 to tying the game up in the final minute.
Ohio State lost the game on a last-second three by Purdue’s Jaden Ivey, but Brown’s efforts did not go unnoticed.
“His performance at Purdue is as good as he’s played in a Buckeye uniform,” Holtmann said. “I’m excited about his continued growth and the evolution of his game. He’s a young player that I think continues to get better, and will with increased time. And certainly he’ll have a major role for us moving forward next year. For Gene, it’s disappointing, but he handled it great, he was a great teammate on the floor. I know he wanted to play, but they felt like it was best to shut him down.”
Holtmann said the Ohio State coaching staff knew it would have to round out some areas of Brown’s game when he entered the program as the No. 143 overall prospect in the class of 2020, but plenty of the upside they identified early on has already started to show itself.
“I think offensively he’s driven some close-outs, made good reads. He did in the Penn State game here, he did it in the IUPUI game, he did in the Purdue game. I think he’s making some good decisions,” Holtmann said. “You see this in college basketball, you really need guys with his length and defensive versatility. His ball skills have to continue to grow, his shooting has to continue to grow, but that’s kind of who he was when we recruited him, too. We knew that that was going to be aspects of his game that he has to continue to grow in. But I think he’s got a bright future.”
Before Brown gets the “major role” Holtmann described next year, the Buckeye head coach wants his pupil to become more consistent on defense and 3-point shooting. But as long as Brown can stay relatively injury-free and continue to show improvements from game to game, he appears to be on track to become a more frequent contributor for the Buckeyes in the near future.
“I think the biggest challenge for us with him has been he has to be defensively a guy that we can really count on,” Holtmann said. “He’s got to utilize his length, his size, his mobility to really impact our team defense. And then he’s got to add consistent shooting, and I think that’s the next thing for him, being able to consistently make open threes.”