Early in the season, when Fresno State guard Jahmel Taylor was sitting out under NCAA transfer rules, he would work with the scout team in practice, get some shots at a game speed, and then more on his own afterward.
From the corner, from the wing, right side, left side, straight out. It was him and his shot, a lot, and he would knock them down, one after another.
All that work at the three-point line has paid off for the Bulldogs (25-9), who have been getting productive minutes – going nine and 10 players deep – through a nine-game winning streak that has propelled them into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
Those minutes have come from sophomore center Terrell Carter II, from freshman guard Sam Bittner, from juniors Paul Watson and Lionel Ellison, and from the 6-foot Taylor. The last Bulldog to see the floor after sitting out the first 12 games as a transfer from Washington, he has left a mark on just about every opponent that has fallen during the postseason run.
“He has been really clutch for us over the last few weeks of the season,” coach Rodney Terry said. “We knew he was going to be a guy that would bring a lot of value shooting the basketball. We needed more shooting and he definitely has brought that to the table at a very high level.”
Taylor made his debut Dec. 27 against Pacific Union and played sparingly through the first part of Mountain West play. But he has knocked down 21 shots from the three-point line since his minutes started to climb last month.
In the Bulldogs’ overtime loss at Nevada on Feb. 13, he started and ended a 13-0 second-half run with threes to help get the Bulldogs into overtime, despite being down in that game forward Torren Jones, Watson and Carter II due to illness or injury.
Taylor has just kept on going, not shy about firing away.
“I have a lot of confidence in my shot and with the team that we have, everybody has helped out a lot making me feel great on the court,” Taylor said. “With my confidence and the team supporting me, I feel very good when I shoot it. Even though they’re big shots I feel, one, it’s timely and we need it and, two, I practice on it a lot so I’m ready for it.”
Of those 21 threes, four have tied the score and three others have given the Bulldogs a lead, three have pushed a two-possession game to three, two have cut a three-possession game down to two and one has pushed a one-possession game to two.
In the Mountain West Tournament championship, Taylor was 2 of 3 at the three-point line. The first one with 9:02 remaining tied the score at 52. The second one with 7:00 to go put the Bulldogs up 57-54, the lead going back and forth six times before they were able to put away the game.
“He’s a great example of practice confidence,” said Jerry Wainwright, the Bulldogs’ associate head coach. “I wish I had a dollar for every practice shot he has taken, because I could go out and have a heck of a vacation. I remember early on talking to him, and I said, ‘Don’t worry about all the things that you can’t do right now. ... Build your game on what you do.’
“Now, you have to bring it to defense, you have to be able to do it under pressure. But I told him, ‘Be ready, be ready.’ When the door opened up, he wasn’t hesitant.”
Taylor could be an important piece to deploy against Utah (26-8), the Bulldogs’ opponent in the first-round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
The Utes, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Regional, will have to defend Taylor at the three-point line, helping to space the floor and create driving opportunities for Marvelle Harris, Julien Lewis or Cezar Guerrero. Taylor over the past 10 games has hit 47.7 percent of his three-point attempts (21 of 44), and Utah ranked last in the Pac-12 defending the three-point line, allowing opponents to hit 36.7 percent (253 of 689).
“Those guys, they have to look for him because they know he’s a sniper,” Terry said. “He was a sniper in practice. When he wasn’t eligible and he was on the scout team, they knew he was a problem for them. If they didn’t guard him the right way, he was going to make them look bad.
“He really has added what we needed. We needed shooting. We needed guys that we know can make shots in games, and he’s getting a chance to do that. When you put him on the floor, he’s a dude that is going to make shots now. He has played at this level and he has no fear in that regard.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
Big Dance Fever
MIDWEST REGIONAL: NO. 14 FRESNO STATE VS. NO. 3 UTAH
- Thursday: 4:27 p.m. at the Pepsi Center in Denver
- Records: Bulldogs 25-9, Utes 26-8
- TV: TRU TV (DirecTV Ch. 246, Dish 242, Comcast 50/748, AT&T U-Verse 164)
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940)