UNIVERSITY PARK — Brandon Taylor has endured an up-and-down sophomore season for Penn State.
Taylor found himself mired in a shooting slump early in Big Ten play, shooting 21.9 percent from the field and scoring in double figures just once in five consecutive losses. The 6-foot-7 forward then rediscovered his stroke, shooting 46.9 percent and averaging 15 points to help the Nittany Lions win three straight games.
He’s battled through a foot injury, which had him wearing a protective boot, and he’s continued to develop his inside game.
“He’s really shown me — beginning of the year he was strong, he went into a little bit of a lull, now he’s back on an uptick,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said two days after Taylor’s 19 points helped the Lions upset Ohio State. “He has a little bit of an injury and he’s getting mentally tougher and stronger as the season goes on.
“Whereas last year I couldn’t say that. This year, I can say that.”
Chambers points to Taylor’s youth for his inconsistency, but the coach also sees him gradually turning the corner. Penn State has won all four of its Big Ten games when he scores in double figures, and the Lions (13-12, 4-8) will need him to contribute against No. 16 Iowa (18-6, 7-4) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a dominant 85-67 win over then-No. 10 Michigan and lead the conference in scoring at 83.7 points per game.
Taylor is third on Penn State in scoring with 9.8 points per game and leads the team in 3-pointers (37) and 3-point attempts (115). He’s hit big shots, most notably in comeback wins over the Buckeyes and Indiana, but he’s also disappeared at times.
In the Lions’ last two losses, he managed just two points against Michigan State and was held scoreless in the first half against Illinois.
Taylor tries to leave those performances in the past along with each miss.
“Shooters, you know, they got a short-term memory,” Taylor said. “You never focus on the last miss, you always focus on the next shot you’re gonna take and know it’s gonna go in.”
Chambers reinforces that belief in his players.
The coach pulled Taylor aside moments before the second half against Illinois on Sunday.
Taylor went 0-for-3 from the field in the first 20 minutes. So Chambers offered some words of encouragement for him to remember during the final 20 minutes.
“He’s giving me confidence and letting me know that he believes in me,” Taylor said. “And he knows that I can get it done.”
Taylor knocked down a 3 from the right corner 3:10 into the second half to get going.
He held his follow through until the ball fell through the net to give Penn State a one-point lead, then ran past a pleased Chambers, who slapped hands with his forward. Less than five minutes later, Taylor confidently drilled another 3 in transition to pull the Lions within one point.
“He’s one of our better 3-point shooters,” Penn State guard D.J. Newbill said. “And in this game, 3-point shots are daggers, so when he can string together some 3-point shots, that helps out a lot.”
Taylor illustrated Newbill’s point in the Lions’ 66-65 win over Indiana on Wednesday night.
Penn State’s comeback still had a long way to go with the Lions down seven with two minutes to play.
A 3-pointer by Taylor changed everything. PSU trailed 65-61 with 1:59 to play. On the ensuing possession, the PSU forward got Indiana’s Jeremy Hollowell in the air with a pump fake from beyond the arc and hit a pull-up over Noah Vonleh to bring the Lions within 65-63.
Though Taylor was quiet for the first 38 minutes at Indiana, Chambers said Friday those shots show Penn State is “almost adding a third guy” it can trust late in games along with Newbill and Tim Frazier.
He’s already shown he can be a difference-maker throughout the season. He’s proven he’s tougher, playing through a sore foot. But he’s still rounding out his game and searching for consistency.
“The kid’s a talented player,” Chambers said. “And again, he’s a sophomore, only a sophomore, so this is what you get from a sophomore. But if he can continue to play like this, really give us a post-up presence along with a deep 3 presence, I mean that just makes him really difficult to defend.”
Notes: Penn State’s win over Indiana was its first this season when D.J. Newbill (seven points) was held to single digits. … Iowa’s six losses have all come against teams ranked in the top 25. The Hawkeyes are second in the conference in field goal percentage (47.3) and first in field goal percentage defense (38.7). … Roy Devyn Marble leads Iowa in scoring with 16.5 points per game.