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Trojans sweep Cougars in league twinbill

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

UPLAND — Finding different ways to win certainly was the takeaway from Saturday afternoon's Taylor University men's and women's basketball doubleheader.

While the men played with the lead almost throughout, the women needed a fourth quarter rally before the Trojans completed a sweep of Spring Arbor (Michigan) in Crossroads League play at Odle Arena. Backcourt mates Ryan Robinson and Mason Degenkolb combined for 37 points and led the men in a  73-67 victory, while Becca Buchs lifted the women past the Cougars 57-55 with her big plays.

Taylor's men defeated a second straight NAIA Division II top 25 opponent, while a tired women's team eeked out a win after losing their previous three games in overtime to nationally-ranked teams.

"Too many games in November ... and we're mentally tired and physically tired," said Jody Martinez, coach of the No. 10-ranked Taylor women. "We tried to execute our offense and we had layup opportunities and open shots and we just didn't hit (34.5 percent)."

After an 0-2 start, the women already were in desperation mode and needed to keep pace with first-place Indiana Wesleyan (3-0). The Trojans were coming off a 73-66 overtime loss Wednesday at sixth-ranked Marian, the defending Crossroads League champion, after letting a double-digit lead slip away.

"That's been what's happening to us lately," Martinez said of the losses. "We found a way to win and it was a step in the right direction. I know we're tired, but we have to overcome it. We do need a break."

Spring Arbor (3-8, 1-2 Crossroads League) raced out to a 9-0 lead less than four minutes into the game and held a firm grip on the game until the fourth quarter. Taylor (9-4, 1-2) never led until Buchs' 3-pointer made it 51-48 with 6:10 to play following a Cougars turnover.

 

"It was a really good pass from my teammate and it felt so good to finally hit a shot since it had felt like there was a lid on the basket for a while," Buchs said of her 3-pointer. "We had good shots and they just weren't going in, but that (basket) got us into our press and helped spark our defense."

The Trojans would extend their advantage to 55-50 on Aubrey Wright's driving layup at the 2:57 mark, but Spring Arbor tied it on a 3-pointer with 1:43 remaining. Both teams had empty possessions before Buchs was fouled at the 21-second mark and made two free throws that put the Trojans back on top, 57-55.

Buchs is an 83 percent free throw shooter but had made 1-of-4 prior attempts Saturday. After her free throws, Spring Arbor was unable to get off a shot before time expired.

"It's just confidence, and coach preaches it all the time," Buchs said. "I knew I could hit free throws — I just don't know what was going on the first half. But I didn't worry about that and knew the next two were going in."

Taylor's men never trailed after an 11-0 run early in the first half made it 15-5, and it took 10th-ranked Spring Arbor (10-2, 2-1) until 12 seconds remained to make it a one possession game. Two free throws brought the Cougars to within 70-67, but the Trojans made 9-of-12 at the line over the final 2:40 to maintain their advantage.

The men, who improved to 4-6, 2-1, have been a mirror opposite of the women and Spring Arbor marked their second consecutive victory over a ranked opponent. The Trojans had won 80-71 Tuesday at No. 5 Marian.

"These two wins back-to-back to Marian and Spring Arbor are big wins," said Robinson, who led Taylor with 21 points. "Two really good teams and it feels good to pull them out."

Taylor appears to have found its footing after opening the season with four straight losses and then fell to 2-6. Three setbacks were against top 10-ranked teams and another was to No. 23 Bethel to open league play.

"All the stuff you do pre-conference is just for that reason," Taylor men's coach Josh Andrews said. "It's pre-conference and you're trying to get ready. We thought we played well enough to win in a number of our non-conference games, but the ball didn't bounce our way.

"Today, we did enough things to put ourselves in position to win and late in the game the ball bounced our way just a bit," Andrews added. "What you're asking in this conference is to be in position to pull it out with four minutes to go, and so far we're 2-for-3 and that's a good trend for our guys."

Robinson was 4-of-9 from 3-point range including one from deep midway through the second half that quelled a Spring Arbor rally. Taylor's overall 9-of-18 from behind the arc was crucial and Emmanuel Boateng and freshman CJ Penha both were perfect in two attempts.

"I definitely think we're locking in," Robinson said. "We were in those big games against those big teams early in the year and we couldn't pull it out towards the end of the game. So it feels good to get these wins at the end.

"A big part of it is we have a lot of new guys and we had to get used to that," he added. "But it's also staying within ourselves and being part of a team for the whole 40 minutes that's been a big part of it."

Degenkolb scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half, followed by Jake Heggeland with nine and Penha and Vincent Miranda with eight apiece. Boateng, who has been a valuable highly athletic player off the bench, sprained his ankle in the second half and was unable to continue.

"That really hurt us," Andrews said. "... We were in a good rhythm when he went out, and he is a nice counter to Heggeland. He's nimble and quick to the ball and he's quick down the floor and that hurt us."

 

Brandon Durnell scored 26 and Paul Marandet 17 to lead Spring Arbor (10-2, 2-1).

Taylor's women was able to win even though Kendall Bradbury, NAIA Division II's fifth-leading scorer, was held nine points below her average with 12 on 4-of-14 shooting. Bradbury was in foul trouble in the second half.

Wright contributed 11 for Taylor and freshman Merideth Deckard came off the bench to drain three deep 3-pointers in the first half for nine points.

Anne Marie Wright scored 17, Gracie Cabana 13 and Rachel Nelson had 11 points and 12 rebounds for Spring Arbor.