In the days of winter break and J-term, the Taylor men’s basketball team went through some ups and some downs.
“This season’s been tough,” junior Jason Hubbard said, “but we keep pushing.”
Conference play got off to a strong start with consecutive wins over Grace College and Goshen College, but a six-game losing streak within the Crossroads League and schedule uncertainties due to COVID-19 made for a difficult stretch.
The team has had to deal with two team stoppages and multiple quarantines during the season, and had Silent Night canceled even after it was announced that it would be played as scheduled.
“No one’s feeling sorry for us,” Head Coach Josh Andrews said. “Everybody’s dealing with it, and I’ve been super proud of our guys; they’ve been resilient.”
The Trojans showed some of that resiliency in late January, running off three consecutive Crossroads wins, with one against No. 24 Saint Francis. They played some of their best defense of the season, holding all three teams under 73 points.
That run was crucial for Andrews’ squad, as it placed them in a good spot regarding the Crossroads League standings, where the top eight receive a bid. Taylor has since clinched a spot in the tournament.
“We were just locked in,” junior CJ Penha said of the winning streak. “We prepared really well, we practiced hard and our scouting was great.”
Penha and Hubbard both set significant milestones as a part of the January wins.
Hubbard dropped in 16 points in an 80–70 win over Huntington on Jan. 23 and reached the 1,000-point mark for his career.
Two games later, in a Jan. 27 matchup with Goshen College, Penha put together a 35-point performance and reached the 1,000-career-point club as well. Hubbard and Penha became the 44th and 45th players to reach the mark in Taylor history.
Both of the junior forwards were tasked with significantly increasing their offensive production this season following the graduations of Mason Degenkolb (‘20) and Ryan Robinson (‘20). They have answered the call and then some.
Hubbard is scoring 19.9 points per game this campaign, an increase of over 6 per game. Penha has upped his scoring average from 16.6 to 19.7 points per game. On top of the scoring jumps, the two also have enjoyed an uptick in field goal percentage, despite taking more shots.
“Both these guys have grown their games,” Andrews said. “Their maturity and mindsets have been impressive. I think both of them are going to continue to get better.”
TU continued their improved play into the beginning of second semester but dropped three heartbreakers in a row, all of which they had a second-half lead. The Jan. 30 matchup with No. 18 Marian saw Taylor lose a 71–67 lead late, and last Saturday’s contest with No. 11 Bethel ended in a one-point loss after the Trojans’ offense went scoreless in the last 1:30.
In addition to the play of Penha and Hubbard, the rest of the roster has grown throughout the season, with underclassmen getting critical minutes. Taylor’s three freshmen, Gavin Yoon, Kaden Fuhrmann and Grant Niehaus, have played in nearly every game. Fuhrmann has gotten multiple starts, and both he and Yoon are shooting over 40% from deep.
“Their confidence has grown in practice and in games,” Hubbard said. “They’re starting to shoot it more confidently, and we’re just trying to encourage them.”
In terms of experience, Taylor’s seniors, Vincent Miranda and James McCloud, have started every game this season and provided what Andrews called “invaluable production.”
“They’ve been vital in terms of minutes and productivity since their freshman years,” Andrews said. “They’ve seen a lot of different things and also grown as men.”
While the season has had its rough patches, Taylor has been stringing together strong performances for the better part of 2021. They haven’t lost by more than nine since December, and have picked up a ranked win and experience along the way. If their play of late is any indication, they could be a few big plays away from making a run in the Crossroads Tournament.
TU’s final regular-season game will tip Saturday on the road against Saint Francis at 1 p.m.