Boys Basketball | Penz, Taylor have guided Mayo turnaround
Midway through this season, the Rochester Mayo boys basketball team was beginning to wonder if it would ever be able to smile again.
The Spartans couldn't buy a win. In fact, Mayo was the last team in the Big Nine Conference to collect a league win. That didn't happen until Jan. 21 when it beat another struggling team, John Marshall.
Since then, though, the Spartans have taken off. Mayo has won five of its last seven games and four of its last five. That includes as drama-filled a win Friday night as the program has ever had.
Mayo roared back from a 20-point halftime deficit to Faribault, and forced overtime after Nate Penz and Kevale Taylor each hit three-point baskets in the final seven seconds of regulation. Mayo ultimately prevailed 74-72.
Talk about smiles returning to a program.
"Our emotions were so high after hitting those two three-pointers to force overtime, that it was tough to control our emotions (and play overtime)," Penz said.
But they did it, and as has been the trend during this hot streak, Mayo got its first lift in OT from junior guard Penz. Penz, who began the year as a reserve but has now turned into a crucial starter, kicked off the overtime with a three-point basket. Mayo would never trail again.
There is no way that Mayo would have won that game, or maybe any of the others during this surge, without Penz. The 5-foot-10 junior — who is better known as a star quarterback in football — has been a three-point making machine the last month.
Penz hit six three-pointers and finished with 24 points against Faribault.
And that was no fluke. In his past seven games, Penz hasn't just been making three-pointers, he's been making them at a rare rate. He's hit 32 of his last 54 three-point attempts, good for 59 percent.
"That 32 for 54, that is just ridiculous," Mayo coach Shaun Lang said.
Penz hasn't been the only Spartan who has been ridiculously good of late. Also in that category has been Taylor, a sophomore point guard. Mistake prone early in the year, then shelved for a few weeks with a bad back, Taylor has certainly turned things around.
The sophomore has been wonderfully efficient during this winning stretch. Taylor is averaging 12 points in the last seven games while shooting 49 percent from the field overall and 40 percent from three-point land. He's also averaging four assists, just one turnover, and three steals in those games.
Ian Reid Hathaway, a 6-2 junior forward, has also been excellent. He's averaged 10 points, 3.4 assists and two steals the last seven games.
Lang had been aching for something just plain good — forget ridiculously good — from his team for almost two months. It was a painful start for Mayo, which won just three of its first 12 games.
"We were letting things bother us the first half of the season," Lang said. "We'd play well (in a game), hit a little rut and then fold up. Our body language and our execution would crumble."
There's been no such crumbling of late. That especially included Friday's crazy game with Faribault. After falling behind by 20 points, Mayo seemed in great position to give up.
But it did no such thing. Those days are apparently done. Good timing, too, with the playoffs set to begin next week.
"I feel like we're playoff-ready now," Lang said.