As the University of South Florida's point guard, Marvin Taylor is supposed to run the show. But against Western Kentucky on Monday, Taylor stole the show. The junior, who was averaging 10 points a game, scored a career-high 30 points _ the second-most by a Bull this year _ and USF rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit for an 80-70 win.
Taylor upstaged senior Hakim Shahid, playing his final regular-season game at the Sun Dome, but only by a little. Shahid had 15 points and a season-high 19 rebounds _ two fewer than the entire Western Kentucky team.
USF is 17-8 overall and 9-4 in the Sun Belt Conference and can do no worse than tie for second in the conference. Western Kentucky fell to 11-16, 6-7. The Hilltoppers have lost six of the last seven and twice to USF this season after winning nine of the previous 10.
But the Hilltoppers seemed to be in control of this one, opening up a 13-point lead two minutes into the second half, 49-36. The lead was still double-digits, 52-42, when Taylor took over.
"I guess I just stepped in and scored some," said Taylor, who just last Thursday was carried off the Old Dominion court on a stretcher after suffering a back injury.
"When I have to pass, I'll pass," he said. "But when I have to score, I can do that, too."
He scored 14 points as the Bulls outscored the Hilltoppers 24-7 in a 9:28 span to take a 66-59 lead. The comeback was only the second time the Bulls have been able to overcome a halftime deficit this season.
"Marvin saved us," Shahid said. "He's a ballhandler, but he can score. He has that potential."
With a seven-point lead, USF then began milking the shot clock as Taylor dribbled up and down and all around Western Kentucky players, who took turns swiping at him and the ball.
Taylor made 4 of 5 free throws, Armstrong made all four of his attempts and Shahid hit two to close out the game. USF, after making 4 of 7 first-half free throws, hit 15-of-16 in the second half.
"We shot our free throws well again," said USF coach Bobby Paschal, referring to Saturday's 25-of-27 free-throw clinic. "We hit practically every clutch free throw and that was a key."
But USF could do little right at the outset, turning the ball over twice and missing its first four field goal attempts and even its first two free throws.
Meanwhile, Western Kentucky was doing just about everything, building a 9-0 lead on a Jerry Anderson slashing layup with 16:28 to play.
The Bulls finally scored as Taylor penetrated and handed off to Shahid underneath for a layup with 15:58 left in the half. But the Hilltoppers took an 18-8 lead on a Rich Burns three-pointer at the 12:11 mark.
USF then rallied behind Fred Lewis, Radenko Dobras, Shahid and Taylor, taking its first lead, 21-20, when Taylor hit a three-pointer with 7:24 left.
The teams exchanged the lead four times before Roland Shelton hit a jumper for a 26-25 lead. That ignited a 16-7 run as Western Kentucky led 42-32 with 1:03 to play.
Taylor and Shahid then hit four free throws to cut the lead to 42-36, but Karl Brown scored with one second left to give the Hilltoppers a 44-36 halftime lead. USF also trailed Virginia Commonwealth by eight at the half on Saturday before rallying for a 75-66 win.
And like that game, USF turned up the defensive pressure and turned on the offense. Namely, in the guise of Marvin Taylor.
"Our kids played hard and played well for a half," Western Kentucky coach Murray Arnold said. "Taylor had a great, great game. This is certainly the second-best team in our conference and by tournament time, they might be the best."