UPLAND, Ind. – The 15th-ranked Taylor University men’s basketball team will open its 2017-2018 season on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm, when it hosts Wright State-Lake inside Odle Arena.
The Trojans will have a familiar look, as the squad brings back its entire starting lineup and nearly 80 percent of its scoring, rebounding and minutes played from a 21-12 season one year ago that ended with a NAIA National Championship Tournament Sweet 16 appearance.
“Last year was a convincing year for our players,” stated fifth-year head coach Josh Andrews. “Prior to last season, we stayed the course through several years of growth and development and the resolve of our guys, coupled with some key additions, helped create a very successful season.”
While advancing to the Sweet 16 was the signature moment of Taylor’s 2016-2017 season, there were plenty of other highlights. Those moments included a trio of wins over teams ranked inside the top-20, setting a program record with 10-straight wins to open the season, sinking a program-best and ranking 14th in the NAIA with 314 makes from three-point range, eclipsing the 80-point mark a total of 16 times for the program’s most since 1972-1973 and averaging 84.2 points per game in front of the home crowd in Odle Arena.
The Trojans posted an increased win total for the third-straight year under Andrews, completing the program’s overhaul with the 21 wins last season. Now after posting the first 20-win campaign since 2012-2013 and reaching the teams’ first NAIA National Tournament since 2006, TU will set its mark on contending for the school’s first men’s basketball league championship since 2006.
“With 12 returners, we have a group that understands the rigor and standard of achieving success in our league,” said Andrews. “This year’s team must keep the same humble perspective that helped us achieve in the past. The strength of our team is us. We have the versatility and playmaking and numerous guys who can score it. We expect the same defensive identity every year.”
In addition to the returning starting lineup of Tim Fleming, Mason Degenkolb, Evan Crowe, Keaton Hendricks and Jake Heggeland, key reserves Ryan Robinson and Joe Ingersoll also return, along with Emmanuel Boateng, who will play immediate minutes in his first year of eligibility for TU. Newcomers, Vincent Miranda and James McCloud, will each see valuable minutes off the bench for TU, with Graham Ortmann, Christian Allen, Pat McNamara and Jordan Foster also returning.
Fleming and Hendricks will lead the group, having joined the program as Andrews’ first signings in Upland.
“Keaton and Tim are cornerstone recruits under our leadership,” reflected Andrews. “They embraced the vision we have for Taylor Men’s Basketball and have worked tirelessly and with unusual commitment to see our program to this point. These are true leaders who personify what it means to be a Trojan. We will follow their leadership to the heights that this team climbs.”
Fleming has provided steady play at point guard throughout his career with the Purple and Gold and returns for one final go-around. Fleming capped a standout junior season with a spot on the Crossroads League All-Defensive Team, after racking up more steals than turnovers and ranking 34th in the NAIA with a 2.44 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The senior will be joined in the starting lineup by the All-American, Degenkolb, as well as Crowe. Degenkolb burst onto the scene last season to rank third among all NAIA Division II freshmen with 17.0 points per game and was named the Crossroads League Freshman of the Year and NAIA Honorable Mention All-American. Crowe continued to develop his game, showing flashes of brilliance and ending with 12.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game to go with 71 makes from downtown during his second season with the program.
Taylor will have ample depth at the guard position, with Robinson and Miranda each capable of running the offense at the point, or providing additional scoring off the ball. Robinson did so to the tune of 7.7 points per night as a rookie, while Miranda excelled as a two-time All-Indiana standout for Northwood High.
Hendricks and Heggeland will do the heavy lifting for Taylor on the interior. Hendricks earned All-Crossroads League attention for the second-straight year after producing 13.1 points and leading TU with 6.0 boards per night and 76 makes from deep at a 42.0-percent clip. Heggeland also came into his own as one of the top post threats in the Crossroads League during his sophomore year, ranking 14th in the NAIA and tops in the league with a 61.1-percent rate from the field and adding 12.3 points per outing.
Ingersoll will provide Taylor with an experienced option off the bench to spell Hendricks and Heggeland during his senior campaign, while McCloud and Boateng will get plenty of work early into their collegiate careers. McCloud earned Honorable Mention All-Indiana honors with Mount Vernon High last year, while Boateng sat out last season after transferring into the program.
The Trojans will play 15 regular season games inside Odle Arena, including the 21st-Annual Silent Night Game on December 8. Other key home dates include Tuesday’s opener, a showdown against No. 9 IU-East on November 17, the Crossroads League home opener against RV Spring Arbor on November 28 and the cross-county clash with No. 6 Indiana Wesleyan on January 9.
The challenging schedule features 11-of-30 games against teams ranked or receiving votes in the NAIA Division I and Division II Top-25 Polls.
No. 15 Taylor will get things started on Tuesday, October 31, when it hosts Wright-State Lake for a 7:00 pm tip. The game, and all home games during the 2017-2018 season, will be webcast live at on the Trojan Sports Network at athletics.taylor.edu/gameday.