By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Troy Taylor’s last meeting with Kellen Dunham was memorable.
It was the 2009 sectional final at New Castle, and Dunham’s Pendleton Heights Arabians were rallying late in the third quarter against Taylor’s Anderson Indians.
The rally was brought to a sudden stop at the end of the period when Taylor launched what appeared to be a prayer from the opposite free-throw line and sank a 3-pointer to keep Anderson in front.
The Indians rolled in the fourth quarter, won 73-50 and followed up with two more victories to claim their first sectional title in six years.
On Saturday, Taylor — a senior guard at Evansville — and Dunham — a freshman guard at Butler — meet again.
This time around it’s at Indianapolis’ Hinkle Fieldhouse, and Taylor’s Purple Aces are the underdogs. The 19th-ranked Bulldogs upset then-No. 1 Indiana 88-86 in overtime last week at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, again raising their national profile.
But Evansville (7-4) has won the last two meetings between the state rivals — 80-77 in overtime last year at home and 71-68 in overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse in 2010.
“Every year we’ve played them it’s a battle,” Taylor said. “I think we match up very well with them.”
Like Butler (8-2), the Aces think defense first.
The contest promises to be a methodical chess match between two highly disciplined teams. And Taylor could be one of the most unpredictable pieces on the board.
“He’s a really good player,” Dunham said. “He’s unique in that he crashes the boards pretty hard for a guard. He’s definitely a big part of our gameplan.”
After averaging 4.9 rebounds per game last year as a junior, the 6-foot Taylor leads Evansville with a 6.5 average this season.
He spent the first part of his freshman year begging head coach Marty Simmons to let him crash the glass. It’s something he was known for while winning three Herald Bulletin Player of the Year awards at Anderson, and he felt as though it was a way for him to make an immediate impact on the team.
Once Simmons relented, he agreed. And he’s been coaxing Taylor to hit the boards ever since.
The guard was so successful at it last season that Missouri Valley Conference foes began gameplanning against him.
“I’m the littlest guy on the court, and they’re sending two guys to block me out,” Taylor said. “It was actually pretty funny.”
Taylor’s senior season has flown by. The Butler game is Evansville’s last before beginning conference play, and it holds special meaning for the Anderson native.
He’ll have several friends and family members in attendance, and even his great-grandfather will be able to watch the game on TV. He’ll also get another chance to play at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“I like the atmosphere there,” he said. “We know they always have a great crowd, and I’m excited to be that close to home. It’s going to be crazy playing there.”
Butler is well aware of the danger the Purple Aces present.
Copach Brad Stevens spoke to the team about not allowing a letdown after the emotional high against Indiana. He shared stories of what has happened to other teams after similar upsets and reminded the Bulldogs that Evansville would like nothing better to pull off a surprising win of its own.
“Coach Stevens told us we need to have a good week of practice and not let that happen at Hinkle Fieldhouse,” Dunham said.
Taylor said the Aces let a winnable game slip away in the season opener at Notre Dame, and they don’t want to repeat that mistake on Saturday.
A win would shine some of the national spotlight on Evansville, just as Butler’s upset of IU raised the Bulldogs’ profile last week.
“It opens our eyes to how good they are, beating a team like Indiana,” Taylor said. “But we’ve played a lot of these guys before. We know it’s going to be a game. We know it’s going to be a battle. There’s nothing easy about beating good teams.”