Will Fairfax, Sports Writer
The men's basketball team is preparing to improve on last year's 20-11 campaign starting Nov. 2 when they travel to Rio Grande, Ohio, to face Shawnee State.
The Trojans were 9-9 in conference and finished the regular season last year with a huge 82-73 victory over No. 7 Grace on Senior Night by shooting 63 percent from the floor and 60 percent from 3-point range. The Trojans traveled to Grace four days later for the opening round of the MCC tournament and struggled, shooting just 30 percent from the floor and lost 53-76. The loss was Taylor's second in a row in the MCC tournament opening round to Grace.
The Trojans hope to build on last year with three returning starters and two departing seniors - Kyle Hanaway and Jake Burkholder, who played in a combined 243 games in their four years.
"It's an experienced team; they've been through ups and downs, so you hope that experience teaches you some things," said Head Coach Paul Patterson. "Experience is as much an attribute in practice as it is in games. If a team knows how to get ready to play, they have a real advantage."
Patterson has 713 career wins at Taylor and is the all-time Indiana collegiate wins leader. Second on the list is Bob Knight, who had 662 victories while at Indiana University.
The Trojans return their leading scorer from last year in senior Casey Coons, who was 14th in the NAIA in scoring, averaging 20 points a game and sixth in total 3-pointers with 101.
"This year is a new year," Coons said. "None of these games have been played before, and every team is different this year. Obviously, we will have our work cut out for us because our league is really tough from top to bottom like it has been for the last few years, but we are working hard to continue to improve."
Coons finished the previous season tied for 5th in the NAIA in free throw percentage with 87 percent and has scored the 10th point in the previous three Silent Night games, last year doing it with three consecutive free throws.
The Trojans have only one incoming freshman in Jordan Richardson, but Patterson is confident with the team he has and the guys who are returning.
"Anytime you lose people who have played that many minutes it takes a little time for the adjustments to be made," Patterson said. "The guys that we're looking at have done a pretty good job of applying themselves and preparing for this, and the older guys have done a pretty good job of teaching them."
Patterson's expectations are that his players will come in every day and work hard. He added that his team is close to getting over the top.
"We have a saying, 'Respect the process and appreciate the struggle,'" Patterson said. I think if we can embrace the challenges of getting better every day; if you look at our record last year we were really close to getting over the top, so the little things become the big things."
Patterson said that these "little things" are improving defensively and finding their roles.
"We need to be better together as a team defensively," Patterson said. "Just in our practices we feel like we've made great strides there. The other thing would be finding our roles and playing those consistently because we do have some new guys that need to step in.
Coons is confident in his team this year.
"I think we have the chance to be pretty good," Coons said. "It's a long season and a lot can happen, but we have very high expectations, and we will continue to work towards those goals every day."The Trojans are participating in the Rio Grande University Tournament this weekend and will open up conference play at home against Goshen on Nov. 20th.