After two consecutive losses to Grace College and the University of Saint Francis, the Taylor women’s basketball squad (26-3, 14-3) turned things around in a big way with back-to-back wins last week over Mount Vernon Nazarene University (17-12, 7-10) and Huntington University (20-9, 9-8).
With the wins, the 2020 class set the all-time program record for most wins by a class.
Last Saturday’s 81-65 victory over Mount Vernon was marked by strong play on both sides of the ball, with shooting from senior Jamie Netzley and sophomore Merideth Deckard helping lead the Trojans to one of their highest scoring outputs of Crossroads League play.
Netzley had 25 points on 10-14 shooting. She also added four rebounds and four assists. The senior guard earned Crossroads League Player of the Week for her performance.
“(My class) has gone through a lot of ups and downs these past four years, so it’s just exciting to see the team be so successful this year,” Netzley said. “I think every player has stepped up. Obviously this accomplishment means a lot to me, but I think any of us deserves it on any given day.”
Deckard didn’t miss a single shot from the field or the free throw line throughout the game, as she scored 23 points and became the NAIA leader in 3-point shooting percentage.
Seniors Abby and Becca Buchs both had double-doubles on the night, with the duo combining for 27 points and 20 rebounds.
“For them to finish with double-doubles is huge,” Head Coach Jody Martinez said. “In our system we get in transition, and in order for us to get in transition, we gotta get the defensive rebound.”
Taylor fell in an early 10-12 hole, but Netzley and Deckard answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to grab a 16-12 lead towards the end of the first quarter. The Trojans held onto that lead well into the second quarter, before Mount Vernon’s Taylor Gregory went on a 5-0 scoring run by herself and swayed the game back in favor of Mount Vernon at 31-28.
Much like the first quarter lead though, the three point advantage didn’t last long, and Taylor closed the quarter on a 10-2 run consisting of two made threes from Deckard.
That lead would stand in the second half, as Taylor’s defense held Mount Vernon to shooting 36.5% from the field, and outside of the 5-0 run in the second quarter, the Trojans kept Gregory under control, the leading scorer for Mount Vernon. Her 6-14 performance from the field was one of her lowest shooting percentage performances of conference play.
“I think we did a good job of picking her up,” Deckard said. “She’s a big threat outside of the key and inside. We did a good job containing her. You’re trying to force someone else to step up.”
Along with the improved shooting and defense, turnovers were another area that Taylor bounced back in.
One of the things that comes with being among the fastest-paced teams in the country, is higher turnover numbers, but those went down in their two wins last week.
“We had made some poor live-ball turnovers that led to too many points by the other team,” Martinez said. “The discipline of taking care of the basketball was more evident in last week’s victories.”
Taylor committed 31 turnovers combined in their two most recent losses, but had only 23 combined in the wins over Goshen College and Mount Vernon.
That short two-game losing streak seems to be behind them.
“We were obviously in a hole for a minute but we’re coming out of it, and I think we’re playing our best basketball, and that’s what we want to be doing at this point,” Deckard said.
Now, postseason play enters into focus.
After the double-overtime win over Huntington and a matchup with Indiana Wesleyan on Saturday, the team will turn its focus to the Crossroads League Tournament and eventually, nationals.
“We just need to continue to play the way we did last week,” Martinez said. “We had great ball movement, and shot with confidence, and with that our energy on defense went to another level.”
With a regular season where they never left the top 15 of the NAIA rankings nearing its conclusion, they’ll see if they can match or even improve on last season’s impressive finish.
They’ll have a chance to defend last season’s Crossroads League Tournament Championship when the quarter finals tip-off on Tuesday.