Men’s basketball getting hot at the right time

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Justin Chapman | Echo

The Taylor men’s basketball team claimed their first NAIA national tournament victory since 2006 on Wednesday night. The 25th-ranked Trojans upset No. 8 Warner by a score of 73–67 in what appeared to be a competitive game, despite the Trojans controlling the majority of the contest.

The final score indicated a moderately close game, but in the first half, it was Taylor’s game. Warner converted an authoritative alley-oop dunk in the opening seconds of the game. The Trojans proceeded to go on a 10–0 run with the help of three-pointers from sophomore Evan Crowe and junior Tim Fleming.

Execution on defense and making big shots were the two main reasons for Taylor’s success. Overall, the Trojans shot 49 percent from the field and held the Royals to 38.3 percent.

Fleming was a major factor in this game. He guarded senior Warren Hall, the second highest scorer in all of college basketball and the top scorer in the NAIA. Hall averaged 31.1 points per game this season.

“Tim Fleming did a terrific job on him, and then as a team just being in the gap and executing defensive assignments was critical for our early start,” head coach Josh Andrews said. “And it helped that we made some shots on the other end.”

In Taylor’s victory, Hall managed to only score 14 points while going 4–20 from the field. His lone two points in the first half were free throws, and he did not make a basket until the 9:15 mark in the second half.

This game was Hall’s second worst game of the season in terms of points. One game earlier this season he scored three points, but that was because he only played 10 minutes as a result of injury.

While this game may seem like a big stage, the Trojans handled it as if it were any other game.

“We honestly didn’t feel any pressure or anything like that going into this,” senior Lane Vander Hulst said. “I think we were all more excited than nervous, to be honest. We had a good feeling going in.”

Warner knocked Taylor’s lead down to four with 39 seconds left to play, yet Taylor did not lose composure. The Trojans held out as senior Eric Cellier sealed the deal by making two important free throws at the end.

Junior Keaton Hendricks said that Taylor made a great team effort to achieve this victory. The team performed well overall, and four players ended up having 10 points or more.

“We’ve never been favorites,” Hendricks said. “We walk out on the court, and we’re not the best-looking team from appearance: we don’t have the biggest guys. It’s kind of the mentality that we have (as) the underdog. We like it; we thrive in it.”

On paper, Taylor may not be the best team in the tournament, but they are moving on to the next round. March Madness usually has a good amount of upsets every year. Being an underdog could play to Taylor’s advantage.

Andrews knows how important it is to stay composed and compete in a mature manner. The tournament is not an environment any current player on the team has experienced. Even though this is all new for them, they expect themselves to perform well.

“We’re playing as a confident ball team right now,” Hendricks said. “We’re kind of on the upswing of things. We’ve gotten through a lull halfway through the season, but we’re doing well. We’re confident in each other, we’re playing as a team and I think we could be dangerous.”

The Trojans have to celebrate their win quickly and move on as they play against Trinity International today in the Sweet 16. Trinity is a three-seed in the tournament and previously beat College of the Ozarks in the first round.

The Trojans look to continue their postseason success in Point Lookout, Missouri. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m.

“Photograph by Sean Quillen”