HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - After being slowed by a leg injury and a freshman's task of adjusting to major-college basketball, Marshall's Ryan Taylor is becoming consistently productive at his power forward position.As the Thundering Herd begins Conference USA play this week, Taylor's efforts are drawing attention. A small part of that came Monday when he was named the league's freshman of the week.It was the Herd's fourth such honor in nine weeks, and it's no mystery who accounts for the other three: point guard Kareem Canty, who won the award on Dec. 2, 9 and 16.Taylor won for his work against South Carolina, Akron and Presbyterian. The Herd went 1-2 in that stretch, but Taylor scored 52 points, pulled down 22 rebounds and shot 20 of 35 from the floor. In the Herd's 77-49 win over Presbyterian, he had 18 points and 12 rebounds, his fourth collegiate double-double."I feel like I picked the pace up since we first started," Taylor said Tuesday. "Just getting back in the groove after sitting out with the leg injury."Taylor missed two consecutive road games in early December, at Vanderbilt and Penn State. He returned Dec. 14 against West Virginia and struggled, fouling out with seven points and two rebounds. Starting with a 25-point game Dec. 17 against Alice Lloyd, he has scored double figures in five consecutive games.He has a similar streak of shooting more than 50 percent from the floor, and his 61 percent season places him fourth in Conference USA behind Willie Clayton of Charlotte (62.2 percent), Tymell Murphy of Florida International (62 percent) and Shawn Jones of Middle Tennessee (61.1 percent).The wrinkle to watch is Taylor's 3-point shooting. He shot from long range a season-high four times against Presbyterian, hitting twice. He is 5 of 10 over the last four games, and a respectable 7 of 18 (38.9 percent) for the season.Not exactly stats of a gunner, but there is a purpose: "I try to show all aspects of my game, just to keep them honest so they won't sag one me," he said. "I make a few outside shots and make them play me straight and honest."
Canty tallied eight assists against Presbyterian, but that was partially offset by five first-half turnovers. That continued his struggles from the previous two games, where he had a combined eight assists and 17 turnovers against South Carolina and Akron.He may have regained his ball-control skills, but his shooting woes have continued. He was 4 of 14 Sunday, which brings him to a 10-of-43 clip over the last four games - under 25 percent. From 3-point range, he is 3 of 20 over the last three games, or 15 percent.Playing 35.9 minutes per game, Canty seems to have hit a "freshman wall" of sorts, physically and mentally. But there is more to it - the opposition, as a few teams have learned how to deal with him."Teams now, they have film on [him]," said MU coach Tom Herrion. "He is a target, he is the emphasis in scouting, it starts with him. When you scout us, it starts with how you take him out, off ball screens. When you're shooting contested shots, your percentage goes down."The good news: Canty took care of the ball in the second half, issuing five assists without a turnover. That's a positive he and his teammates can take into Thursday's C-USA opener at Texas-San Antonio.
"Whether you like it not, he's the heartbeat of our team," Herrion said. "It kind of goes as he goes. He's a great player, had a great start to his freshman year, but they kind of lean on him, look toward him. He's a crutch."Canty's minutes rank second in C-USA, behind the 37.7 of Tulane's Jonathan Stark.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.