The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team has received a big lift off its bench from freshmen forwards Justin Taylor and Maliq Brown in recent weeks. The two former AAU teammates have hit their stride and seen their minutes increase in ACC play. The Virginia natives have played key roles in Syracuse’s two wins over Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.
Brown has come off the bench and scored in double-figures in three straight games while logging starter’s minutes. Taylor has provided an offensive spark and looked much more aggressive hunting shots. The two were instrumental in fueling Syracuse’s 12-point comeback victory over Notre Dame. Brown finished with 15 points and seven rebounds against the Irish while Taylor scored five important points and grabbed a pair of rebounds.
Jim Boeheim noted that the game turned around when Taylor came in for Joe Girard when he made a tough jumper along the baseline to start a Syracuse run.
“Justin came in, he made a really tough corner jumper and then a three. Judah [Mintz] really set him up nicely,” He stated.
Taylor came into the game and played shooting guard with Girard sidelined. He and Quadir Copeland both play the two guard in practice and switch from the bottom to the top of the zone, so he didn’t feel out of position on Saturday. Boeheim envisions him playing the shooting guard position next season.
After Taylor made his jumpshot from the corner he found Brown down low on the ensuing possession for a three point play to get Syracuse back within seven points. Later, a Taylor three brought a boisterous dome to its feet as Syracuse came within striking distance at 63-60.
The game was nip and tuck from there, setting the stage for a pair of Brown dunks down the stretch that got the game to within two before a Chris Bell triple gave Syracuse its first lead of the half, eventually leading to the win.
Brown doesn’t do anything flashy, but he has a knack for being in right place at the right time. He gets to the dunker spot and simply finishes when the ball comes his way or rebounds for easy putbacks. His efficiency is apparent with 67.3% field goal shooting.
“He hangs around the basket. They’re worried about Jesse and Maliq gets that”, Boeheim said. “They don’t pay much attention to him. He’s not a scorer but he can rebound and put the ball in the basket.”
Brown has taken advantage of his minutes in ACC play. He just wants to come in, play his hardest and help his team win, he says. He knows his strengths and stays within himself. While Taylor and Brown appear to be hitting their stride from the outside, Syracuse teammates have seen this kind of play out of them since the summer session.
“From the moment we’ve played pickup they’ve been really good,” Jesse Edwards said. “To translate it to games like this, it’s been beautiful to watch because like I said, I saw it before. But to do it in a game is a whole different thing. I’m just proud of them.”
Taylor and Brown have known each other since they were 12, growing up in the same state and playing on the same AAU team. Their games compliment one another and they’ve played with chemistry when coming off the bench, having an unspoken feel for where the other will be on the court. It helps that they both play on the second team in practice together, too, but the relationship goes beyond that.
“Obviously since growing up—playing with each other in childhood—just knowing that the chemistry is there on and off the court,” Brown divulged of Taylor. “Knowing where he likes to catch the ball, where my dominance is at catching the ball and just knowing that he’s a pure, great shooter knowing every time he goes up with it, it’s going in.”
Brown said he thought he would see playing time in his freshman season, but wasn’t expecting to get this many minutes right away. As for his emergence, it might be surprising for onlookers, but Taylor is least surprised of anyone.
“As soon as this opportunity came I knew he’d take full advantage of it,” Taylor said. “I’ve never seen him rattled. He’s calm, cool, collected. Especially under pressure.”
Brown has risen to the occasion and addressed what Syracuse has needed from the forward spot.
“I think Maliq’s been solid. He’s playing the most minutes of anybody at that position,” Boeheim stated. “He’s earned it.”