Justin Chapman | Echo
The Trojans are coming out the gate with guns blazing. The Taylor men's basketball team is 4-0, including an impressive victory over No. 8 Trinity International last Saturday. The win avenges the loss the Trojans suffered last year in the Sweet 16 of the NAIA national tournament to Trinity International.
Taylor entered the second half in an eight-point hole, needing a comeback to accomplish an upset. Sophomore guard Mason Degenkolb provided the spark the Trojans needed.
Degenkolb tallied 22 points in the second half, finishing the night with 32 total. He shot nine-14 from the field and dished out three assists. Junior forward Jake Heggeland added 16 points and brought down five rebounds.
"We definitely wanted that Trinity win," Heggeland said. "Losing to them in the Sweet 16 last year was a rough one. That's kind of been circled on our calendar for the entire offseason. I'd say morale is high, we're really excited we got four home games in a row here."
The team was hungry for revenge after the painful loss to Trinity International last year. Heggeland especially wanted the victory, specifically because he is from Wheaton, Illinois, roughly 39 miles south from where Trinity International is located in Deerfield, Illinois.
The Trojans started their four game home streak with a commanding win over IU-Kokomo with a score of 95-79. Sophomore guard Ryan Robinson thrived in the recent victory, bringing 23 points in a 7-17 shooting effort. The team shot 48.4 percent from the field overall.
"The two home crowds so far have been awesome," said head coach Josh Andrews. "We've had great support. I can't sell it enough that it's huge for our guys. They love the student body being there, we've had a lot of community folks and faculty there. We think our guys are doing the right things and playing a fun brand of basketball."
While being at home for a few weeks will be nice, the Trojans end their streak with a challenging match against No. 9 IU-East. One goal the team longs to accomplish is winning every home game. According to Andrews, winning every game at home and protecting their home floor would be impactful for their season.
Although the season has been a success thus far, the team realizes there still needs to be improvements.
"We're continuing to come together with a team-first mentality," said senior forward Keaton Hendricks. "We're a very talented group, by far the most talent throughout my four years, and if we continue to play for each other good things will come our way."
Amongst other aspects of their game the Trojans want to improve, defense is one of the top categories. According to Hendricks, Taylor was top 25 in the nation last year in defending the three-point line, but is nowhere near the top five thus far.
Andrews tries to get the point across to the team that there will never be another 2017-18 Taylor University men's basketball team. Each year is unique, and while this group is talented, nothing is given.
However, defense is something Andrews wants the team to pride itself in.
"We wanna be five guys who play defense together," Andrews said. "If five guys play defense together it's like a fist, it's strong. If we're isolated trying to guard our own man, we can't get as much done."
The basketball season is long, and the team has 26 regular season games left. Hopefully by late February, the Trojans are playing their best basketball and have an open door into the NAIA National Tournament.
The Trojans look to continue their hot start to the season tonight against Governors State at 7 p.m. in Odle Arena.
"Photograph by Brad Timmerman"