The Grinnell men’s basketball team has certainly been turning heads recently after Jack Taylor ’15 scored 138 points on November 20 against Faith Baptist Bible College. After the hysteria of the Taylor game and the setback from a loss to William Penn University on November 25, the team opened Midwest Conference play. Though the team lost a home contest to Illinois College on Tuesday, the Pioneers won their first four conference games, including a 105-94 win at St. Norbert for the first time since 2006.
“It was really a statement game, while we have a special group of players, we didn’t receive any votes to win the league and St. Norbert received seven or eight,” said Coach David Arseneault Jr. “For us to go into their gym—a place we haven’t won in six years—and put together a victory against preseason conference favorites was huge.”
The Green Bay Press Gazette ran a story on Jack Taylor’s visit to St. Norbert and the game attracted a standing-room only crowd of 2,041 fans with rows of patrons standing behind one baseline. Taylor was the focus of the fans’ attention, as Wisconsin is his home state.
“It wasn’t that everyone there was cheering for St. Norbert. I think a lot of people came out because Taylor was from Wisconsin, and they wanted to see what he could do,” Arseneault Jr. said. “It was awesome to play in that kind of environment.”
“The thought process was, we knew this would be one of the teams competing with us for a conference championship and so we wanted to go up there and create a little distance with us and them,” said Joe Rogers ’13. “We were thrilled coming out of there with a victory. It was a really team effort so everyone was pretty excited coming out of that.”
The team has been able to capitalize on a newfound focus on defense that starts with the nine seniors and has had the effect of trickling down to the younger players.
“We have incredible leadership and those nine guys have set the tone for what we want to do. It started in the off-season,” Arseneault Jr. said. “They are encouraging everyone else to get into the weight rooms and go to open gyms.”
Additionally, the team is more than just Jack Taylor, who scored 36 points against St. Norbert. The team plays at least 15 players a game and everyone contributes. Even the individuals who don’t receive playing time are having an impact, with their enthusiasm on the bench.
“The ones that aren’t playing are not complaining, and the ones that are, are not complaining about how much time they get. They are all just happy to be a part of it,” Arseneault Jr. said.
One of the team’s strengths is in its depth, which allows the Pioneers to confidently play three distinct shifts.
“We have a much deeper team and we can really play 15 with three shifts. This allows us to play intense defense the whole time and not take any time off on either side of the ball,” Rogers said.
While the team experienced a letdown earlier this week with the 114-123 defeat to Illinois College, the team is committed to making sure they improve upon the loss.
“Collectively, we just didn’t have the energy I’m accustomed to seeing when we take the floor,” Arseneault Jr. said. “I’ll have to do a better job of making sure we are ready to play in our next game.”
Coming off Tuesday’s loss, the team will look to improve over winter break before they play Beloit College in Darby Gymnasium on January 2.
“We will use this game as a wake-up call and move forward towards reaching our ultimate goals of making the playoffs and winning a conference championship,” said Pat Maher ’14. “We look forward for the next opportunity to get a win in conference and start a new winning streak.”