Trojans drop heartbreaker

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Justin Chapman | Echo

Fans filled Odle Arena for the last time this basketball season to cheer for the men’s basketball team. Taylor is receiving votes in the national poll and in the first round of the Crossroads League Tournament, Taylor fell to the Spring Arbor Cougars 75–73 Wednesday night.

The Trojans now stand with a record of 20–11 at the end of their regular season. The NAIA tournament looks distant for this squad since they are not ranked in the national poll. Their successful season seems to be coming to a heartbreaking end.

Taylor’s biggest lead in the game was 12 when the score was 39–27 in the first half. The teams grappled for the lead in the second half. The final lead change came when Spring Arbor converted a two-pointer with 1.8 seconds left to make the score 75–73.

“The old sports cliché of: it’s really hard to beat a good team three times in a season, may have played out last night,” said head coach Josh Andrews. “But they’re very good; they’ve got three seniors (who) played like seniors.”

Down-to-the-wire games seem to be the story when these two teams play. When they faced off in November, Spring Arbor missed a game-winner. In January when the foes met again, freshman Mason Degenkolb converted the game-winner.

Throughout the season Spring Arbor has been a great defensive team. Taylor managed to turn the ball over four times. Furthermore, the Trojans could not convert many shots in the second half. Overall, Taylor went 8–27 from the field and 3–13 from behind the arc.

“We didn’t shoot (the ball) very well in the second half,” Andrews said. “I honestly think that’s the difference. We had some good looks that didn’t go. If they go, we win that game.”

Shooting in the first half appeared not to be an issue for Taylor. After going 15–32 from the field overall and 6–15 from the three-point line, the Trojans could not continue their hot shooting in the second half.

The Trojans went down shooting, giving themselves an opportunity to win. Junior Tim Fleming’s free throw tied the score at 73–73 with 15 seconds left. After the Cougars made the score 75–73, Degenkolb missed a half-court buzzer-beater.

“Momentum definitely carries through halftime,” junior Keaton Hendricks said. “That hurt. Like I said, we were up (by) 12 and if we would have had two or three of those shots go in— (maybe) up 15—that would have been a different ball game.”

Senior Eric Cellier said shots that usually go in for Taylor did not fall Wednesday. He knows Spring Arbor was solid defensively, which meant Taylor should have stepped up on offense.

For Cellier and the other seniors on this team, the game Wednesday could have been their last at Taylor. NAIA tournament teams will be revealed next Wednesday and while the team is hopeful for an at-large bid, the chances they make it are low.

“It’s a strange feeling,” Cellier said. “(It’s) obviously disappointing that it has come to an end. We’re still holding on to a little bit of hope that we might have a shot at that national tournament bid. Because of that it makes it feel a little awkward because it’s not exactly for sure if it’s officially the end yet.”

Taylor finishes its most successful regular season since the 2011–12 season when they achieved a record of 20–10. They were ranked for a big chunk of this season and made it as high as No. 7 in the NAIA national polls.

If Taylor ends up not making the national tournament, the squad looks to come back and have another prosperous season next year. The core of this team will still be here next year, as they only lose two seniors.

Juniors Vivian Aiken, Tim Fleming, Keaton Hendricks, Joe Ingersoll and Graham Ortmann will become the team’s five seniors next year.

“Photograph provided by Fayth Glock”