When Brandon Taylor went down with a right-knee injury Saturday, Penn State was rolling to a decisive victory over Rutgers.
Taylor’s knee collided with Rutgers forward Kadeem Jack, causing the Penn State forward to immediately grab at his leg. He was eventually helped off the floor, his 16-point day finished with the Nittany Lions ahead by 27 with 9:45 remaining. Taylor later returned to the bench with crutches, his knee wrapped, offering a smile as he spoke to an official during a stop in play.
When Penn State hosts Minnesota at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Taylor is hoping to play. But the team’s second-leading scorer is day-to-day with a sprain, leaving a hole in the Nittany Lions’ attack if he is limited or cannot play.
“Everybody’s got to step up,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Everybody’s got to do their job, next man up. I don’t want to put pressure on any one kid. I don’t think that’s fair to them because I think they’re feeling good about themselves and they’re playing with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence, so we all got to step up if that’s the case.”
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Taylor has found his stroke after enduring a tough stretch to start Big Ten play. The 6-foot-6 forward is shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 53.3 percent from beyond the arc in the last three games. Taylor, who is averaging 9.9 points per game, is a top scoring threat behind Penn State leading scorer D.J. Newbill.
Newbill said Taylor expects to be on the court Wednesday.
“Right now, Brandon says he’s going to play,” Newbill said Monday. “The trainers haven’t listed him as out. They said day-to-day. Right now, in his mind, he’s going to play, so we’ll see what happens.”
The Nittany Lions (13-7, 1-6) are looking to build on their first conference win after losing their first six games. Penn State followed an 0-6 start in the Big Ten with a three-game win streak last season.
“We know it’s a marathon race,” Newbill said. “We’ve got to have a short memory. We can’t dwell on the games that we lost. We just got to try to learn from them, like what we did wrong, what we did well and keep it moving.”
Penn State will take on a Minnesota team that has won two of its last three games. The Golden Gophers (13-8, 2-6) are coming off a 79-71 win over Illinois. Chambers said he expects to see pressure from the Gophers, who have forced eight conference opponents into a Big Ten-high 14.0 turnovers per game and rank second in the nation with 10.7 steals per game.
“They’re doing some good things,” Chambers said. “They’re mixing it up on defense — pressing, zone, man-to-man, trying to keep other teams off balance.
“They played a great game against Illinois. They were up double digits for a while there. We got our hands full. We got to take care of the basketball, we got to keep them off the boards and we got to try to limit their good looks.”
Chambers said he’ll look to 7-foot-1 center Jordan Dickerson to defend Minnesota’s 6-foot-10 center Maurice Walker, who is averaging 12.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. But the coach has turned to Taylor to play down low in a starting lineup along with 6-foot-7 forward Ross Travis in the last two games.
Taylor’s ability to stretch the defense as a 3-point threat has created mismatches against opposing big men.
With Rutgers’ Jack guarding him, Taylor set a screen for Shep Garner on the perimeter and popped out for an open 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half. Taylor finished 6 for 10 from the field, his second-most efficient performance of the season.
The streaky forward shot 24.1 percent in Penn State’s five games before he got back on track the last three games. Against Purdue and Michigan State, Taylor’s production came solely from beyond the arc and free-throw line as he failed to convert inside.
“It’s comforting knowing that I’m getting those opportunities, now it’s just me having to hit the shots,” Taylor said last week. “It’s good knowing I get those looks. Now it’s just up to me to make those shots.”
He scored 16 in a variety of ways against Rutgers on Saturday. It was Taylor’s 12th double-digit scoring effort, the second-most on the team.
Chambers said Monday “my inclination is he would play.” The coach was also optimistic about his team after its blowout win.
“I feel like it all came together,” Chambers said. “And I think they realize that we are a pretty good team and we can win in this league.”
Notes: Minnesota has won five straight games against Penn State. ... The Golden Gophers rank second in conference play with 12.5 offensive rebounds per game. ... Minnesota’s Nate Mason and DeAndre Mathieu rank first and second in the Big Ten in steals with 2.2 and 2.1 per game, respectively. ... Newbill was third in the country in scoring with 22.0 points per game going into Tuesday. He is averaging 29.0 points in the last three games and ranks seventh in program history in scoring. ... Newbill is among 30 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award, given to a four-year athlete who excels in the classroom, community, character and competition.