Taylor makes case for league MVP as Badgers come back to beat pesky Hoosiers
MADISON, Wis. - Quick, who is the best point guard in the Big Ten Conference?
He just might be the 6-1, 195-pound junior wearing the cardinal and white.
Jordan Taylor dropped 28 points and played virtually the entire game, leading No. 17/18 Wisconsin (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) to a surprisingly hard-fought 69-60 win over Indiana (10-9, 1-5). In addition to his scoring outburst, which pushed his average in Big Ten games to 22 points per contest, Taylor led the Badgers with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. He committed just one turnover and one foul.
"He's a bright young man who takes advantage of the opportunities that are presented to him," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "Jordan, as people are finding out, is a pretty good player. He's been instrumental in putting us in the position we're in right now."
While Taylor has provided late-game heroics in the past, it was his play in the first half that kept Wisconsin within striking distance. The Hoosiers shot an absurd 61 percent from the floor over the first 20 minutes, led by Jordan Hulls' 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting. The Badgers kept pace in the half, shooting 52 percent overall, but failed to earn a single free throw attempt and trailed 34-30 at the intermission.
"They've got some players on their team," Taylor said. "We made some mistakes defensively but you've got to give them credit."
It's scary to think of where the Badgers would have been had Taylor not scored 17 points in the period, on remarkably efficient 7-of-8 shooting. He drained three of the Badgers' four first-half three-pointers. While Indiana cooled off a bit in the second half, the Hoosiers still shot 42 percent and the Badgers weren't able to take the lead until Mike Bruesewitz converted a slam-dunk three-point play with just over 13 minutes to play in the game. That Wisconsin's comeback even mattered is because of Taylor.
Equally disconcerting to consider is where Wisconsin would be this season without its junior point guard. Ryan returned freshman shooting guard Josh Gasser to the starting lineup, but he scored just two points on an easy layup in 21 minutes. Gasser is averaging 2.2 points per game in Big Ten play. Wquinton Smith and Tim Jarmusz combined for five points against Indiana, and that was it for the team's guards not named Taylor.
Because of the lack of offensive output from those behind him, Taylor must do it alone.
"He pretty much carried us that first half," Leuer said.
While Indiana head coach Tom Crean split his last six meetings with Ryan when he coached Marquette, he hasn't found the same luck against the Badgers as Indiana's boss. On a night the Hoosiers began in promising fashion, Crean was in no mood to talk about moral victories.
"We're disappointed because we came to win," Crean said. "I think every man in our locker room believed we could."
After less than a minute of trading leads in the second half, Jon Leuer's free throw - one of 17 the Badgers would shoot in the final 20 minutes - gave Wisconsin a one-point edge with 12:08 remaining, and UW never looked back.
"They're at the top of the list of programs that don't beat themselves," Crean said. "No free throws in the first half, 17 free throws in the second half, I guess that's Big Ten basketball."
"I think we were attacking the basket a little more and not settling for jumpers," Leuer explained.
The Badgers won't get much rest as they embark on a tricky road trip that will take them to Northwestern and Penn State. Before they even board the bus to Evanston, though, they'll have to get through Friday.
"Tough game," Ryan said. "Physical. But guys will be in the weight room tomorrow at 7:30, getting ready for Northwestern."