The Taylor men’s basketball team started their 2019-20 season with two consecutive wins last week.
The opening game of the season pitted the Trojans against the Lakers of Great Lakes Christian College. Taylor managed to come out with a 95-83 victory in the high-scoring affair.
The Lakers got off to a strong start, building a 21-15 lead in the first half when Elijah Kess buried a three with a little over nine minutes left on the clock. Taylor struggled to get in rhythm on both ends of the floor for much of the beginning of the game.
“At the beginning we just (had) first game jitters,” junior guard Vincent Miranda said.
After falling behind, senior Mason Degenkolb and senior Ryan Robinson hit two consecutive threes, bringing the game back to even. The two threes sparked a 26-11 run for the Trojans, as they went into halftime with a 41-31 lead.
Miranda said the team settled down towards the end of the first half, mentioning an improved defense and sharing the ball as the keys to the run.
Taylor continued their strong play early in the second half, as Great Lakes never got within five the rest of the game. The Trojans eventually built a 23-point lead within the final seven minutes of the game, and from there the game was never in doubt.
“In that stretch against Great Lakes our guys really played for each other by making the extra pass and finding great shots,” Head Coach Josh Andrews said.
Sophomore CJ Penha and junior James McCloud were forces inside all game, as the two each hauled in 13 rebounds apiece. The frontcourt combo combined to shoot 17-20 from the field, with Penha pouring in 26 points and McCloud scoring 18 of his own. Robinson chipped in 19 points and five assists, while Degenkolb, Miranda and sophomore Jason Hubbard all scored in double figures for the Trojans.
“My only thought right now is to do whatever it takes to help the team win.” Penha said. “If that’s rebounding, playing defense or scoring, I just wanna go get a win.”
The sophomore forward had another strong performance Friday against Judson University, as Penha led the team with 13 rebounds and scored another 14 points in the tight 70-65 victory.
The matchup was back-and-forth as neither team could build a comfortable lead. Towards the end of the first half, Taylor used a 15-4 run to grab a 31-24 lead, only to watch it evaporate and go into halftime tied 33-33.
The second half was much of the same, as Taylor fell down by four initially, only to rattle off seven consecutive points and regain the lead. Freshman Jeff Clayton scored his first career points as his two-point bucket pushed the Trojan lead to 10 with a little over 10 minutes left in the game. Four crucial free throws in the final seconds from Degenkolb and Robinson wrapped up the victory over Judson.
“It was a close game,” Penha said. “What really helped us separate was that we stayed together and got stops and started taking it one play at a time.”
Miranda, who scored a team-high 17 off the bench, credited the second half effort to being aggressive in transition and executing on defense.
To go along with the performances of Penha and Miranda against Judson, the backcourt of Robinson and Degenkolb combined for 27 points on the day. McCloud, Hubbard and Clayton rounded out the scoring for Taylor as the trio added 12 points.
Andrews already sees his team coming together on the floor and is pushing them to keep playing for each other. With opening week in the books, the Trojans are looking to build off their strong start and stay focused on the tasks at hand.
“We got to keep getting better on a game-to-game basis,” Miranda said. “It’s just playing the way we know we can. It starts on defense, getting stops, and that leads us into our offense.”
With Tuesday’s game against Cincinnati Christian cancelled, Taylor will find itself still at 2-0 going into a matchup with Thomas More College. The teams are set to tip-off at 7 p.m. in Odle Arena.