Ten Eyes, Five Guys Help Tigers Shut Down Yale

by Cody Worsham
+0
Ten Eyes, Five Guys Help Tigers Shut Down Yale

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was different, and it wasn’t, the challenge that lay before Marlon Taylor on Thursday in Round 1 of the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

On one hand, his matchup for the day, Yale wing Miye Oni, is one of a kind, a former DIII recruit who landed at Yale after a year of prep school and transformed from an unheralded prospect to a future pro. Oni, the Ivy League Player of the Year, could very well hear his name called in the first round of June’s NBA Draft.

On the other, Taylor, a 6-foot-6 wing with other-worldly hops – seriously, he might be able to planet hop off of two feet – has drawn tough defensive assignments all year for the Tigers. Oni is unique, but he had much in common with Admiral Schofield, Quindarry Weatherspoon, and the slew of SEC scorers Taylor’s lined up across from all year.

“They were all around the same category: Really good,” Taylor said.

“I’ve been prepared.”

Preparation paid off Thursday. LSU started fast on offense and ended slowly, but Taylor’s defensive dominance – he held Oni to 5 points of 2-of-16 shooting on the day – was a constant throughout.

“Oni is a really good player,” said acting head coach Tony Benford. “He’s a pro prospect, and I thought Marlon did a really good job of really being there on the catch and making it difficult for him to get to the rim, and I thought he challenged his three-point shots really well. So I thought Marlon Taylor did a really good job.”

Taylor shared the floor with Oni for 33 minutes. LSU’s junior took just two shots in that time, focusing instead on limiting Oni’s looks. He said his emphasis was to stay on Oni’s right hip, forcing him to go left. 

When Taylor was out, it was up to Skylar Mays, who led the way on offense with 19 points, to lock up Oni.

“He’s really strong going right,” Mays said. “The best aspect of his game is getting out in transition and making plays. I think we did a really good job of getting him out of transition and making him a half court player.”

To be fair, it took a team effort to keep Yale’s star under wraps. Taylor was the lynch pin, but every other Tiger had to be engaged to hold him in check.

“We had a rule for him: the ten eyes, five guys rule,” said assistant coach Greg Heiar. “We wanted to have all ten eyes and five guys in the gaps so he had nowhere to go. Then, you’ve got to take jump shots on Marlon Taylor, who’s probably the most athletic player in college basketball.

“When he’s focused and locked in, he does a tremendous job defensively.”

Oni made his first shot of the night with 16:22 left, as LSU raced out to an 11-2 lead before his three-pointer stopped the bleeding. He would not make another until a dunk with 1:28 to go, as Yale efforted a valiant but futile late comeback.

In the 34:54 between, Taylor tormented him through screens, and his teammates got back in transition and hedged off of the staggers that usually carve open so much space for Oni’s jumpers. It’s the former arena where Oni really shines, getting 40 percent of his points in transition this season, according to Heiar.

“We did a good job of getting back and not giving him easy baskets in transition, which gets him going,” Heiar said.

It also helped having Kavell Bigby-Williams on the back line anchoring the Tiger defense. An SEC All-Defensive team snub, Bigby-Williams played like a man with a point to prove Thursday, finishing with 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks in 21 minutes. With Bigby-Williams on the floor, LSU outscored Yale by 12 points. With him off the floor, the Bulldogs outscored LSU by seven points in 19 minutes.

“Me being here last year, we didn’t really have a shot blocker or shot alterer,” said sophomore guard Tremont Waters. “To have Kavell in the paint, if he doesn’t actually block it, he alters a lot of shots. To have that, it sticks in the other team’s head, knowing next time they go in there, they have to deal with that. It is definitely a great boost to our team.”

This isn’t Bigby-Williams’ first dance. He was a role player on the Oregon team that made the 2017 Final Four, playing 54 minutes in the five-game run.

He doubled that per-game average on Thursday and made the most of every second.

“It’s learning from that experience I had at Oregon,” he said. “Obviously, I was a bench player at the time, and I didn’t play the minutes I play now. It’s a learning curve. I’m able to look at other guys who have done well in the tournament, my former teammates – Jordan Bell, Chris Boucher, Dillon Brooks – and feed off how they played. I prepared myself the right way and was pretty successful today.”

Preparation was key. Bigby-Williams got his at Oregon, Taylor got his in the SEC, and both got plenty in a detailed scouting report they took to the floor against Yale.

It’s that simple, Taylor said.

“The scouting report was to try to keep the ball out of his dominant hand and be solid,” he said.

“And win the game. And don’t go home.”

So far, so good.