It is hard for Tennessee State coach Travis Williams to pull Patrick Miller off the floor — mainly because Miller won’t let him.
Miller prefers to stay on the court so much so that he ranks third in the Ohio Valley Conference with 34.6 minutes per game and it's tough to argue that the Tigers are not better with him on the floor. He is the team’s third-leading scorer (13.2 points per game) and the top distributor (5.3 assists per game) in the OVC.
Williams, in his first year as a head coach after three years as a TSU assistant, is well aware of his starting point guard’s production. Thus, making sure Miller’s legs stay fresh is of the utmost importance. So on Tuesday, Miller spent most of practice on the other end of the court, away from his teammates, shooting jump shots instead of partaking in half-court drills.
“That was my dilemma coming in; how do I decrease Pat Miller’s minutes?” Williams said. “Some games I tried to take him out and he was like, ‘Coach, I got it. I got it.’ So I’ve got to be adamant about, ‘Pat, you’re coming out of the game.’ So we’ll let him take a day to get his body recover. … Pat is a very smart player. He knows when to push it, when not to push it, when to attack. I let him just play his game.”
Miller’s heady play has contributed to the recent hot streak for the Tigers (11-7, 5-0).
Since leading scorer and NBA Draft prospect Robert Covington injured his knee against Middle Tennessee State on Dec. 18, the Tigers have rattled off six straight wins. Heading into the third weekend of league play, which continues Thursday against visiting Jacksonville State before jetting across town to play Belmont on Saturday, TSU is off to its best start in OVC play since a 7-0 start in 1994-95.
Covington took shots with Miller on Tuesday and is expected to return in February.
“I think it kind of helped us out,” Miller said of Covington’s absence. “Everybody is playing with confidence now. Everybody is playing off each other. When Rob played it seem liked everybody was feeding off of him and watching his moves. But now everybody is feeding off each other. I feel like our chemistry got better because we know we have to go hard.”
Williams believes the turnaround begins with Miller, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior from Chicago. During the last six games, he averaged 18.6 points and 4.2 assists.
The former OVC Freshman of the Year has started in 79 of 80 career games but made the switch to point guard this year after Wil Peters graduated. The adjustment was difficult at first for Miller, who needs just 63 points to collect 1,000 for his career.
“At the beginning of the year I struggled a little bit playing the point and trying to score,” Miller said. “But since Rob is out I look to score more and still distribute the ball. It is easier for me now. I’ve been playing better, making shots now. I’m real confident right now in my game.”
And Williams remains confident in leaving him on the floor to run the offense.
While Miller might be prone to careless play here and there — he led the team in turnovers the last two years — Williams believes the positive, point-producing plays outweigh the negative.
“He is the coach on the court of course,” Williams said. “He has to understand, ‘Hey, we need some more scoring opportunities.’ Pick and choose your moments to attack in transition. But more importantly pick and choose your moments to get us in our offensive shots. And that has been the key.”