Penn State hasn't had to worry about its top two players finding ways to get the ball in the basket this season. Guards Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill have consistently produced in both wins and losses. As the twin engines that drive Penn State's guard-focused attack, their motors are always running. What determines whether the Lions win or lose is the production they get from their other pieces.
One of those pieces is Brandon Taylor. The sophomore forward from outside of Trenton has seen his level of play rise and fall as sporadically as a Flappy Bird this year. Overall, he's playing much better than he did as a freshman in 2013; Taylor's scoring, rebounding, and shooting numbers have all risen. However, that doesn't mean that he consistently looks like an improved player.
There have been games this season -- mostly Penn State losses -- in which Taylor has appeared to lose his ability to hit a jump shot. Instead of a sharpshooting forward that head coach Pat Chambers can utilize to stretch out the opposing defense and create more room for his guards, Taylor turns into a bricklayer whom the opponent doesn't even need to pay attention to.
That's what happened when Taylor went 1-for-6 from the floor and scored just four points in Penn State's January loss to Illinois. In the more recent defeat at the hands of the Illini, he shot 2-for-5 and only scored eight points. The Lions need Taylor to be a consistent double-digit scorer like he was during the team's three-game winning streak that stretched from January 23 to February 2.
During that span, Taylor posted his most important performance of the season with 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting in an overtime win over Ohio State. He used the momentum from that game to score 15 points and grab eight rebounds in a home win over Purdue.
Since then, Penn State has lost two games in a row, with Taylor averaging just five points per contest. Tonight, the Lions pay a visit to Bloomington, Indiana to take on the Hoosiers. Tom Crean's squad has been very tough at home, but they haven't been unbeatable. As was the case with Ohio State two weeks ago, Indiana's inconsistent play this season makes a Penn State upset seem within reach, even on the road.
For that to happen, though, Taylor has to play better than he did the first time the Lions and Hoosiers met this season. Back on January 11, Penn State held Indiana to 36 percent shooting and led by15 points in the first half but still lost the game 79-76. Taylor could have made up the difference if just one of his seven three-point field goal attempts had gone in. That was one of his bad days, though, and a 24-point effort from Newbill went for naught.
If Penn State is going to compete for the remainder of the season, Taylor can't have any more bad days. He has to be the consistent third scorer that the offense is depending on. If he's able to do that, the floor will open up with scoring opportunities, and more unsuspecting opponents will fall like Ohio State did.
If Taylor continues to falter, though, the Lions will be doomed to play out the stretch in the sub-mediocrity that their fans have grown all too accustomed to. Hopefully, tonight will be a turning point.