After one week of play, new James Madison forward TJ Taylor has been noticeably absent from the Dukes’ rotation, and the reasons fans haven’t seen much of the Wyoming transfer is a bit surprising.
“If you watch when he was at Wyoming, he was a center,” first-year JMU coach Mark Byington said. “He was a 6-foot-7 center and he’s trying to learn a perimeter spot. He’s just trying to learn the offensive game at a perimeter spot.”
Taylor averaged seven points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season at Wyoming and at times was among the Cowboys most productive players, leading many to expect the Chesapeake native to make an immediate impact on the Dukes.
But through three games, Taylor has played just eight minutes and didn’t check in Sunday night when the Dukes (2-1) held off Radford for a 67-59 victory behind a 26-point effort from fellow incoming transfer Vado Morse in a game that was delayed out of abundance of caution due to contact tracing for a game official, according to JMU.
But as Byington noted, by late in the 2019-20 season the shorthanded Cowboys were using Taylor almost exclusively in the paint. The potential to play more as a wing, along with moving closer to home and a coaching change at Wyoming, all factored into Taylor’s decision to come to JMU.
When he arrived in Harrisonburg, Taylor expected to sit out this season and use it to put in work as a guard against JMU’s first-stringers. The NCAA later ruled that every player this season would be granted an extra year of eligibility and JMU pushed for Taylor to get a waiver to play right away like the Dukes’ four other transfers.
But the set of circumstances have left one of JMU’s most experienced and athletic players a bit behind on being able to fit into the system.
“I think it (affected) his mindset,” Byington said. “We knew we were going to try to transform him from a center to a three or four man. Our system is not easy and he had to change positions and learn a new system and everything else. He had to change his mentality of going from sitting out a year to playing, so he’ll catch up. He’s a great young man and works really hard.”
TRIBE ON PAUSE
William & Mary, which opened the season last week with a loss at Old Dominion, suffered a positive COVID-19 test within its program and subsequently announced Monday morning it was pausing team activities for two weeks.
Though the Colonial Athletic Association schedule doesn’t begin until January, the Tribe’s news potentially impacts JMU right away. The Dukes are scheduled to play ODU on Dec. 7, but Byington said Monday morning he wasn’t aware of any issues with that game being played after the Monarchs shared the court with William & Mary.
JMU has, however, been trying to add another game for this week, and saw Division III Carolina University fall off the schedule for Dec. 9. William & Mary was previously scheduled to play Hampton, George Washington and Virginia over the next two weeks and Byington acknowledged the possibility of picking up one of those opponents.
“This thing kind of moves quickly,” Byington said Monday. “Right now we are anticipating playing Friday of this week. There’s two separate opponents and we are just waiting on either contract to come back. Unless something crazy happens, I think we’ll play a game either Friday or Saturday this week.”
Last season, when Elon needed a bucket late in a game everyone in the arena knew Phoenix coach Mike Schrage was going to put the ball in the hands of Stanford transfer Marcus Sheffield, who came through in the clutch on multiple occasions.
This year, with Sheffield’s eligibility exhausted, Schrage and Co. had to look for a new go-to guy, and it’s no surprise sophomore Hunter McIntosh appears to have filled that role. McIntosh put up 21 points, including the game-winning free throws, as Elon slipped past fellow Piedmont Triad-area foe High Point on Saturday.
“I felt great about them going in,” Schrage told the Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. “To the point where we felt good about what it was going to be, and what we needed to do defensively. My confidence level in him couldn’t be stronger, especially in those moments.”
Last season’s CAA Rookie of the Year, McIntosh led a second-half rally to help the injury-riddled Phoenix improve to 2-0.