HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – As a kid growing up in Indianapolis, Indiana, Ryan Taylor would only occasionally defy his mother. Basketball was always to blame.
“My mom would get mad at me for dribbling around the house,” he said. “I always played basketball at the park, and as I got older I would ride my bike up there and my mom would tell me to be back before the street lights came on, but that never happened.”
On Saturday night at the Henderson Center, with Taylor’s Marshall men’s basketball team trailing visiting North Texas by 1 point in the twilight of his final regular season game on his home court, Taylor again received his orders.
He did not defy them. He won the game for the Herd.
Taylor scored a game-high 29 points, 17 of which came in the second half of Marshall’s 106-104 win against North Texas that locked up the No. 6 seed for the Herd in next week’s Conference USA tournament. Taylor scored 14 of Marshall’s final 17 points, including the final 7 points after the Herd fell behind by 5, 104-99, with 86 seconds left.
“All year long I was waiting on Ryan,” MU coach Dan D’Antoni said. “I don’t think he had the senior year that I wanted to him, probably that he wanted to have. He played his tail off that second half.”
Taylor, a 6-foot-5 senior who was honored prior to the game along with classmates Stevie Browning and Austin Loop, made the go-ahead basket with 7 seconds left to give the Herd a 105-104 lead. After a North Texas turnover, Taylor was fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws to close scoring.
Those points followed a free throw by Taylor to make it a 4-point game with 1:14 left, and then a layup with 41 seconds to trim the deficit to 2 points.
“I just didn’t want to lose,” he said.
Marshall also forced a pair of turnovers in the final 25 seconds to spoil North Texas’ upset bid.
“I think we stepped it up a little bit,” MU guard Jon Elmore said. “We had to go and make it a play or it looked like they were going to win. Guys made plays, got aggressive with them, got a little physical and forced a couple of those turnovers.”
The senior night festivities seemed gloomy in the first half. North Texas (8-22, 2-16) built a game-best lead of 13 points, 49-36, with 4:32 left of the opening half. The Herd had its offense clicking in the opening 20 minutes – 17 of 35 (48.6 percent) shooting and 7 of 13 (53.8 percent) on 3-pointers – but had few answers for A.J. Lawson (26 points) and J-Mychal Reese (25 points), and trailed 53-35 at intermission.
Marshall whittled away at that deficit for much of the second half, finally tying the score at 78-78 on Ajdin Penava’s two free throws with 10:30 left. The game was back and forth from there, and overall there were nine lead changes and nine ties.
The seniors took control. A layup by Browning with 7:23 left gave the Herd a 2-point lead, 89-87, and triggered a run in which 16 of the final 19 points were scored by seniors.
Most of that, of course, was because of Taylor, whose spurt of dominance was what has been seen often from a four-year player who has splattered his name across Marshall’s record books. He entered Saturday’s game on these career lists: top 10 in scoring, top five in rebounds, top 15 in assists, top 20 in steals, top 10 in blocks, top five in free throws and top five in games played.
“I always knew I wanted to go to college and play basketball and have a fun experience, but I never would’ve thought I would have these numbers and been part of something this special,” Taylor said. “The university has so many great players who have come through here. For me to be mentioned with those players is an honor.”
After Saturday’s game Taylor said the senior finale “ain’t set in all the way yet.”
Taylor and his teammates will get a chance to continue the journey in Wednesday’s first round at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. Marshall (17-14, 10-8) will face No. 11 seed Florida Atlantic (10-19, 6-12) at 9 p.m., the last of four opening day games. If the Herd wins, it will face third-seeded Old Dominion (19-11) in Thursday’s quarterfinals, also at 9 p.m.
Marshall defeated Florida Atlantic, 89-72, on Jan. 2. The Herd split regular season games against ODU, winning in Huntington in overtime and losing by 21 points on the road.
Taylor finished regular season game with 29 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks and two assists. He and his fellow seniors combined for 55 points – Browning finished with 14 points, six rebounds and five assists, while Loop added 12 points and six rebounds.
“I think that Loop will always be remembered here. He’ll always hear it when he comes back: ‘Loooooooop!’” D’Antoni said. “Ryan will always be remembered here. And Stevie Browning, a guy, Division II, SportsCenter Play of the Week twice, he’ll be remembered for playing here. That’s all you can ask for at this level.”
Ryan Taylor played in his 124th career game, tying him with Tirrell Baines for No. 4 on the all-time list at Marshall. Taylor also moved past two players and tied another on Conference USA’s career scoring list. He passed Louisiana Tech’s Alex Hamilton (1,722, 2014-16) and UCF’s Keith Clanton (1,718, 2009-13), and then tied Charlotte’s Jobey Thomas (1,737, 1999-2002) for No. 12 in league history.
Taylor scored 29 points, which pushed his career total to 1,737. Taylor passed George Stone (1,723) for No. 7 on the program’s career scoring list.
Taylor made 10 field goals, breaking a tie with Leo Byrd (593) for No. 11 on the career list. Taylor has 603 career field goals.
Taylor grabbed 10 rebounds, which puts him into a tie for No. 7 all-time in Conference USA history. Taylor and Memphis’ Robert Dozier (2006-09) are tied with 961 career rebounds.
On senior night, guard Austin Loop started his 96th consecutive game.
Loop attempted 11 3s, which moved him into the top 10 on the all-time list in Conference USA. Loop now has 686 career 3-pointers attempted, which moved him past three players: UAB’s Mo Finley (679, 1999-2004), UAB’s Robert Vaden (679, 2008-09) and Cincinnati’s Steve Logan (682, 1999-2002).
Jon Elmore’s six assists boosted his season total to 190, which puts him in a three-way tie for the seventh-best single-season in Herd history. Elmore is tied with Sam Henry (1981-82) and Mike D’Antoni (1970-71) on the list.
Stevie Browning’s two 3-pointers pushed his career total to 105, passing Shaquille Johnson (104, 2008-12) and Harold Simmons (104, 1989-93) on the program’s all-time leaderboard. Browning is No. 20 on the career list.
Head coach Dan D’Antoni
“Obviously, it was another great game. When I first came here I thought we were going to be one of the faster teams. Lately it seems like everyone is doing it. I was proud of the kids, we have been lingering for the past three weeks. We came out the first half and I thought we were still in that malaise, we had not found that rhythm or that energy we had during the middle part of the season. I’ll give this to Scott Rigot he gave one heck of a speech at halftime and the kids responded well in the second half.”
On the last home game with Austin Loop, Ryan Taylor and Stevie Browning:
“It worked out the way I thought it would for Marshall basketball. If you know me it’s all about Marshall basketball then it’s about our players. Marshall loves their basketball and they love their basketball players. I wanted players that were here long enough to where the fans would remember them as not only good on the court but the type of young men that you would remember for being a good human being. I think that (Austin) Loop, (Ryan) Taylor and (Stevie) Browning will all be remembered for playing here and that’s all you can ask for at this level.”
On Ryan Taylor’s second half:
“All year long I was waiting on Ryan. You what ball is played at the end of the year not the beginning. He played his tail off in the second half. Scott Rigot told him ‘If you just crash glass you will own it’. Ryan responded well.”
On the two final turnovers:
“Aleksa (Nikolic) came in with his long arms, and we needed defense. I have been down on him and fussed at him, and he did not quit. He was a big part of this game and he helped give our seniors a great send off.”
No. 25 senior forward Ryan Taylor
On tonight’s win against North Texas University on senior night:
“It has not sunk in yet. We still have some games left going into the tournament, but it did feel good to get the win.”
On his personal performance in the last 10 minutes of the game:
“I did not want to lose tonight, especially on our senior night.”
On the closeness of the game and the focus needed:
“We only looked at the time and scoreboard a few just so we could trim the deficit and we played defensive basketball.”
On the other teams nonchalant attitude towards the game:
“They really did not have anything to lose it was their last game.”
On the technical call received against North Texas’s # 11 Derail Green:
It energized us and gave us drive for the rest of the game.
No. 33 junior guard Jon Elmore
On the two turnovers at the end of the game:
“We made plays on the ball stepped it up and were awarded the two critical turnovers.”
On the upcoming tournament:
“I think we have the momentum going forward, we’ll be ready. We plan on winning four games in four days and going to the NCAA tournament.”