Derek Redd: Herd needs Taylor to stay on the floor
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When he's on the court, freshman forward Ryan Taylor's value to the Marshall men's basketball team is obvious. He's the Thundering Herd's top low post scorer, its leading rebounder and has the skill to hit long jumpers as well.
His ability to remain on the court, however, remains a work in progress.
The latest issue came Saturday in Marshall's loss to Tulsa, the Herd's 11th in its last 13 games. With 9:52 remaining, Taylor was whistled for a foul under the Golden Hurricane basket, his fourth of the game. His displeasure over the call earned him a technical foul, fouling him out of the game.
That was the seventh time this season Taylor has fouled out. Only Vince Hunter of the University of Texas at El Paso and Siena's Lavon Long have fouled out more times this season, both sitting down in eight. Now add to that the three games Taylor has finished with four fouls.
Of the 17 games Taylor has played this season, he's been in foul trouble in 10 of them. So, among the other things he's learning in his first year of Division I college basketball, he's trying to figure out how to play physically without playing recklessly.
"It's difficult," he said. "At times, it can be frustrating with the way some refs call games. In the beginning of the season, there were a lot of touch fouls, but now they're letting us play. It's taken some time to get used to."
Some of Taylor's foul trouble could be a product of college basketball's emphasis this season on calling hand-check fouls. And, at 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, he enjoys being physical. Marshall coach Tom Herrion doesn't want to eliminate that part of his game, but he does want to hone it.
"He's going to get fouls," Herrion said. "That's the nature he has. He likes contact and likes playing with other people around him. But he has to eliminate the silly ones. He got one 24 feet from the basket the other day for his first one."
Those are the fouls neither Taylor nor the rest of the Herd roster can afford. Injuries and other departures have left Marshall with a very shallow bench, especially among its bigger players. Elijah Pittman, suspended since December and likely to never return, hasn't played since Marshall's loss to Penn State. Yous Mbao, sidelined with a knee injury, hasn't played since the Herd's loss to Akron. J.P. Kambola, still dealing with an eligibility issue, hasn't played all season.
That robs Marshall of three of its four players standing 6-9 or taller, so active low post players are in short supply. So when Taylor has to sit after being whistled for a couple of quick fouls, it not only limits one of the Herd's most talented players, but it also makes a short rotation even shorter.
And the numbers show foul trouble doesn't do much to help Taylor's effectiveness when he's on the court. He has finished five games scoring in single digits this season. All five have come when he's been saddled with four or five fouls.
"It's very tough, especially being frustrated," Taylor said.
"The game before, I might have only one or two fouls, but the next game, I might end up with two fouls before halftime and I know if I would have done this differently, I could have been out there longer, helping my team try to win."
So the learning process continues with every practice. Coaches drill him on better positioning and better overall defense. He watches reams of game film to get an idea of how different officiating crews call games. And when he gets into games and realizes a crew is calling things closer, he picks his coaches' brains on how to defend a player with those restrictions.
"Within the first five or 10 minutes, notice how the refs are calling it and just take it into thought," he said. "If they're calling touchy, you have to be not as aggressive on defense, but still be aggressive enough."
In games where Taylor finishes with three or fewer fouls, he averages 17 points and nine rebounds. In games where he finishes with four or more, he averages 11.1 points and six rebounds. For a team searching for any positive in a brutal stretch, having one of its best players on the floor, and not stewing on the bench, is vital.
"Our production is much greater when he's on the floor," Herrion said.
The key for Taylor is to figure out how to stay there.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.