Jan. 13, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Ryan Taylor said he had some great dialogue about three weeks ago.
Marshall's star junior forward said it was with someone he knows better than anyone.
"After we played in Las Vegas when I fouled out both games, I basically had a one-on-one conversation with myself - me and myself - to say I'm too valuable for stuff like that," Taylor said prior to the Herd's Tuesday practice.
That was back when the Herd was 4-8 after a split in that Global Sports Classic, and Taylor had fouled out of half of the Marshall games. So, who got the upper hand in his "conversation."
"It was kind of split even," Taylor said, grinning. "I want to be aggressive on the defensive end, like the captain - that type of person. I just know I'm too costly (to his team) when I foul like that.
"I can't pick up ticky-tacky fouls in the first half or early second half. So, I've been watching film, being a lot smarter with the decisions I make, not doing silly things like fouling 90 feet away from the basket."
Since the 6-foot-5 Indianapolis native's different kind of "man-to-man," he's committed only nine fouls in four games and Marshall has a 3-0 Conference USA start after a loss at then-No. 4 Maryland.
As second-year Coach Dan D'Antoni's team heads to the Lone Star State to play North Texas and Rice on Thursday and Saturday nights, respectively, the Herd (7-9, 3-0) wants to be considered a C-USA contender as well as the league's surprise team.
To do that, it needs Taylor on the floor, his presence bolstered by the 2015-16 personnel infusion and a better grasp of the coach's desired style of play featuring ball and player movement.
The emergence of scoring and rebounding leader James Kelly and heady play by guards Jon Elmore and Stevie Browning have changed the Herd in many ways. But Taylor is more than just a familiar piece of the puzzle.
"The way we play, we have to have five good players because the ball moves," D'Antoni said. "What Ryan is Ã¢â'¬Â¦ he understands the way we play probably better than anybody, which I guess you could say makes him the 'glue,' especially defensively, because he tends to direct traffic a lot.
"Offensively, he's an extra point guard. You've got to have a point guard, when you say 'glue,' that's what you think as a point guard and we got a lot better when we got a natural point guard (when Elmore became eligible after eight games).
"Overall, in the whole scheme of things, I'd say Ryan is glue, because he's a little bit of everything, and he's a little bit more of everything than anyone we have. He's a little bit of a point guard, little bit of a rebounder, little bit of an assist guy, a little bit of the ball movement, pace guy. He directs traffic defensively. His game has grown two-fold since we first got here."
Taylor is playing his way toward scoring and rebounding territory occupied in tandem in Herd history only by names like Greer, Slack, Stone, Lee and VanHoose - and in only three years he'll be there by season's end. What he wants to do, however, is play his way toward a postseason berth after playing for teams that finished 11-22 and 11-21.
"I'm just not forcing it," Taylor said when asked how he's altered his game this season. "I'm kind of laying back a little on the offensive end, but being more talkative on the defensive end, almost kind of I'm slipping into a secondary role - which is fine with me because it doesn't matter, as long as we're winning. I'm trying to be more a facilitator. That's pretty much it.
"After what we went through, I guess I'm kind of living proof that things can change around, and you don't want to go back to where we were before. We didn't have what we have now. We used to lose close games. I'm just trying to keep people focused, keep myself focused - a never too low, never too high type of deal."
Taylor, averaging 14.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, has ceded the team lead in both to Kelly, the senior transfer from Miami (Fla.). However, the 6-5 junior continues to put up consistent numbers, and his 24 career double-doubles trail only one fellow junior - 6-10 Josh Hawkinson of Washington State (32).
Taylor has found the game easier - not to mention coming to him - because he has more consistently productive teammates and D'Antoni's "organized chaos" system is a bear for opposing teams to wrestle because of its on-the-fly fluidity.
And when the game hasn't come to Taylor lately, well, he takes it to the game - and the result is three C-USA victories by 18, 23 and 18 points. It's the first time Marshall has won three consecutive conference games by 18 or more since Cam Henderson's 1937-38 Buckeye Athletic Association champs did that four games in a row.
"I'm trying to be more explosive going toward the rim," Taylor explained. "Like Coach D'Antoni says, I used to play an 'old man game,' but I'm more explosive now, especially in the full court. Jon doesn't care if I bring the ball up, so if I see somebody that can barely stay in front of me - or I know I can attack off the dribble - I take advantage of that kind of stuff.
"Other than that, I'm trying to be more cautious about my turnovers, still thinking about my fouls - as much as I've been in foul trouble. I've watched a lot of film to prepare. In the game, it feels like I'm two steps ahead. It's just clicked."
D'Antoni thought he had seen all of Taylor's game since the coach's arrival on campus in April 2014. Then, Taylor showed the Herd Hall of Famer from a coaching family he had more "game."
"The last part that really changed was Ryan's explosion at a faster pace," D'Antoni said. "He had explosion when it was slow and deliberate. He'd show you a burst now and then, on a rebound, you'd see him and go, 'Oh, s---,' but the other day he was coming hard off the dribble, length of the court.
"He was different. I've never seen him do that. He's come, in a lot of ways -- making what he brings to the table - to a complete game. Is he the glue? Certainly, he's the closest we have."
And at the other end of the floor, Taylor is providing more than the "secondary role" he brought up.
"He does a lot of defensive things people overlook or don't see," D'Antoni said. "His off-the-ball defense is really, really good, and he's directing. If you listen to him talk, he's telling people where to be.
"Ryan can get better, individually, in guarding man-to-man, and then again you risk a little bit of fouling, But he understands our principles on team defense. I'm not talking that he always gets there individually - he still makes some silly fouls he's still got to eliminate.
"But as far as when to be at the basket, where the two bigs working in unison with each other, where to be on the floor, he really directs traffic. His knowledge of how to guard is really, really top-shelf. Sometimes he gets - let's say not enough energy - but as far as his knowledge, he's there."
Now, the Herd shares first place in C-USA with UAB, and Taylor understands that his team has an opportunity to extend its three-game win streak against North Texas (7-9, 2-1) and Rice (5-11, 0-3).
Marshall hasn't won four in a row - non-league or in-league - since March 2012, when it won the regular-season finale over Southern Miss, then added three wins to reach the C-USA Tournament final, where it lost to host Memphis.
The Herd has won only four C-USA road games over the last three seasons and is 24-56 in 10 previous seasons of C-USA road play.
"We need to win on the road," Taylor said. "We have a mentally strong bunch of guys. And we know that in order to be any type of good team, you have to win games on the road.
"We know we can come out here and do well in front of our home crowd, but we have to take it on the road and go out with an us-against-the-world mentality. I feel like this group of guys we have this season, we're all ready to go on the road."