Jason Preston has averaged more minutes than any Ohio player this season.
And last season.
And maybe ever.
Well, not quite — D.J. Cooper averaged 38 minutes per game in 2010. Preston has averaged 36.6 minutes nine games into the season. Before Ohio’s 90-51 win Wednesday over Rio Grande, Preston had played 120 minutes in the last three games.
That means he did not leave the floor.
Preston was OK with that. He was fine, too, when coach Jeff Boals pulled Preston from the blowout against the RedStorm with ten minutes to play.
The sophomore point guard exited with 11 points and 13 assists, tying a career-high. He received a modest ovation from the crowd as he walked off the court and received a pat on the back from Boals before he was given a clean towel wrapped around a bottle of water from a team assistant.
Preston played 30 minutes against Rio Grande, but that probably felt much shorter compared to what he’s undertaken this season.
“We won by 40, so that’s always great,” Preston said. “I figured I’d probably be playing a lot.”
Ohio has had no choice but to play Preston for the near entirety of every game. Injuries to Ben Roderick, Miles Brown and Conner Murrell have kept the Bobcats’ depth at guard thin, but that has opened the door for a breakout season from Preston, who leads Ohio with 16.6 points per game.
His biggest improvement, perhaps, has been his passing game. His 8.7 assists per game leads Ohio and is a large leap from his 3.4 assists per game last season as a freshman. Preston was also thrusted into a heavy dose of playing time last season where he averaged 29.5 minutes per game under former coach Saul Phillips.
Preston’s improvement is exactly what Ohio needed to show early signs that it can still compete despite its young roster of eight freshman and new coach in Boals. The Bobcats have won against every team they should’ve beaten so far, and their three losses have come against Villanova, Baylor and Utah — all major college basketball programs.
Things couldn’t be much smoother for Ohio, and that’s largely due to Preston.
“He’s conditioned to play 40 minutes,” Boals said. “He’s taking care of his body, good hydration, massages and treatment. He’s been a pro’s pro. He’s built for it, and we’re going to continue to ride him.”
Boals has statistical data to back up Preston’s top-notch conditioning.
The Bobcats keep track of the heart rate of each player throughout practice. This past week in practice, Ohio did a full-court shooting drill meant to test the endurance of each player.
The coaching staff monitored the heart rates for each player, and Preston was among the most level on the team.
That came as no surprise to Boals, who has played Preston for a full 40 minutes in five games this season.
“When you play that many minutes for multiple games, you kind of get used to it,” Boals said. “It’s tough if you haven’t been doing it, but that’s what he’s been doing.”
Preston, who gained 16 pounds in the offseason and looks noticeably more toned than a season ago, doesn’t care how his workload will look when Ohio’s injured players recover.
Boals, however, leaned into the mic and offered a quick response Wednesday when asked if he will decrease Preston’s workload at any point this season.
He made sure to be clear: He wants Preston on the floor as much as possible regardless of how the roster looks.
“No,” Boals said with a smile. “He will play the same.”