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Published: Saturday, 3/25/2006

Taylor saves his best for last against first-rate talent

COLUMBUS - Last night's Division I state basketball semifinal between St. John's Jesuit and top-ranked defending state champion Canton McKinley was not for the faint of heart.

No fainting allowed.

Against a vaunted opponent loaded with enough big-time talent to field two starting lineups, St. John's coach Ed Heintschel opened the game with a back-screen lob for senior Andrew Taylor, who vaulted his lanky 6-foot-7 frame up where the air is rare and dunked against McKinley's tall timber.

Ka-blam.

Taylor's special delivery was a promise of things to come.

St. John's Mike Floyd, left, and Andrew Taylor watch the final seconds of the state semifinal loss. Taylor had 24 points and seven rebounds. St. John's Mike Floyd, left, and Andrew Taylor watch the final seconds of the state semifinal loss. Taylor had 24 points and seven rebounds.
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Taylor kept dunking, kept scoring, and almost single-handedly kept St. John's in the game for three quarters against an opponent that was taller, quicker, supremely confident and accustomed to winning on the big stage.

It was fun while it lasted, watching Taylor come of age in what was his final high school game. But foul trouble and too little help from his teammates spelled doom for Taylor and St. John's in a 69-51 loss before 17,497 fans at Value City Arena.

"I thought Andrew had a spectacular game," Heintschel said. "He sparked us throughout the tournament."

Every piece of film that McKinley coach Dave Hoover watched on Taylor indicated he was strictly a face-the-basket offensive player.

Imagine Hoover's surprise when Taylor practically went medieval on McKinley's powerful frontline featuring 6-8 and Michigan State-bound Raymar Morgan and 6-6 Ricky Jackson.

"He really surprised me," Hoover said. "He put his back to the basket and made some moves and was really aggressive to score."

Taylor's finest hour.

Scoring in every way imaginable, Taylor, who will continue his basketball career at Hillsdale College next year, lit up McKinley for a game-high 24 points.

He scored on the blocks, drove the baseline for quick-hitting buckets, crashed the boards and defended. He tied for game highs in minutes (27) and rebounds (seven).

McKinley didn't have anyone who could slow down Taylor, an unassuming almost bashful basketball wolf in sheep's clothing who took 15 shots and was 8-of-10 from the foul line.

"We worked on that first play [alley-oop dunk] all week. That first play set the tone," Taylor said. "It got me going and gave me confidence."

Another Taylor dunk, a crashing, two-hand power slam, cut the deficit to 28-23 at intermission and gave the Titans renewed optimism entering the second half.

Ultimately, it was McKinley's defense that won the game.

The Titans connected on just 7 of 21 shots in the second half. Not even Taylor, who struggled to stay on the court after picking up his fourth foul, could escape McKinley's defensive clutches. Hoover made a smooth move, putting Todd Brown on senior Jonathan Dunn, St. John's leading scorer who was 0-for-3 from the field and was held to two points.

It was a tough way for Taylor to end his career at St. John's, because it seemed like he was just getting started.

Once an afterthought behind former Titans stars B.J. Raymond, Zach Hillesland and Brian Roberts, Taylor had this one season to be all that he could be.

"He became a lot tougher and grittier," said Heintschel, who encouraged Taylor to "stay with it," even during those times when his number was rarely called.

"If you fall in love [and lose your focus],'' Heintschel joked to Taylor during their final press conference together, "you'll mess everything up."

Heintschel, who coached Taylor as far back as the fifth grade, said he always knew Taylor had it in him.

And now Taylor knows it too.



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