The City Game focuses coverage on the game of basketball at the amateur levels in and around the city of Chicago
By Chris Pennant (@kwandarykitten)
Last week didn’t provide quite the homecoming Morgan Taylor would’ve wanted if he had his say, but he was still happy to be back in Chicago.
Taylor, a 2018 Marist High School graduate, is in his first season with the University of Incarnate Word, and the Cardinals’ final two games before conference play saw them play in Chicago at UIC and DePaul, a fortunate scheduling quirk for Taylor as well as teammate Christian Peevy, who is also from the city as well as IW coach Dr. Carson Cunningham, who has ties to DePaul, having studied and taught there after a successful college career playing for Purdue.
The Cardinals were unable to come up with a win against either the Flames or the Blue Demons in what was the program’s first games against either school. In spite of the losses, Taylor still showed why he made the 2018 Sun-Times All-City First Team, helping the IW effort as they stayed close in both contests.
The freshman point guard scored 11 points with four assists and a block against the Flames before fouling out of the 63-57 loss at the newly-named Credit Union 1 Arena on December 17. Two days later, Taylor tallied six points — four coming on a couple of acrobatic drives to the basket — and five assists against the Blue Demons at Wintrust Arena. Taylor started all 11 games prior to the two in Chicago and is averaging 11 points, four assists and just under three rebounds per game for the Cardinals.
“It was good getting back out here [to Chicago]. You miss it a lot,” Taylor said of the road trip, which takes him away from his current home in San Antonio, where Incarnate Word is located.
“Being in Texas, the lifestyle is different, the weather is totally different, so it was good just to come back out here and be surrounded by family.”
DePaul and its fans might have been surprised by the Cardinals’ cheering section, which took up about 125 seats in the lower bowl at Wintrust. Taylor and Peevy, a redshirt sophomore and Mount Carmel grad, were represented well by family and friends in the crowd. Several young fans sported Marist gear or Incarnate Word t-shirts with Taylor’s name and number on the back.
A crew of grade-schoolers in the upper tier cheered “We want Morgan!” when he started the game on the bench, and fans booed the referees after he received his third foul in the first half, further limiting his playing time at the moment.
Peevy, who did not play on the trip due to a hand injury, encouraged teammates throughout the game against DePaul. At one point, when guard Augustine Ene missed a free throw long, he shouted for Ene to “back up a couple of feet.” Prior to the injury, Peevy had been on a tear, averaging 24 points on 59 percent shooting in the previous four games. In his last action against LSU on December 9, Peevy led the team with 16 points.
“It was really neat to be able to play in front of family, and I know it meant a lot to Morgan and Christian,” coach Cunningham said. “Morgan performed really well.”
“We’re all feeling for Christian,” he added. “He’s been playing such phenomenal basketball for us.”
The Cardinals’ methodical offense, oriented around baseline drives to open up three-point shots, kept them abreast of a taller and deeper DePaul team (the Cardinals dressed only eight players in both Chicago games.) IW went 7-of-10 on threes in the first half and shot 14-25 for the game, well above their 29.3% average for the season.
“Trying to predict [three-point shooting] can feel like predicting the stock market,” Cunningham joked afterward.
For Incarnate Word and schools like them in Division I basketball, early season games against large conference schools are how they generate extra money for the program, and they started their 2018 schedule on the road at Texas Tech, that and the trip to LSU rank among the biggest losses of the season for this program which is only in its sixth season playing at the top Division I level.
While the bigger schools use the Cardinals as “tuneups” for their season, Cunningham understands the value in having Taylor, Peevy and his young team play in such difficult road games.
“[Those teams] put so much stress on you, because they have so many weapons,” he said. “Whether it’s Texas Tech, LSU, DePaul, they have a lot of things they can go to, so we have to be sharp and they force to focus on things you need to improve.”
Taylor also acknowledged how those games will shape the young team going forward, and how he fits in as a starting point guard in his freshman year.
“We understand that we are going to take some lumps and we have to learn our way through. As long we keep developing, we’ll be pretty good,” Taylor said. “I try to talk to the seniors, because it’s a collective effort when leading the team. It just can’t be me or Charles [Brown III], we all have to do it together.”
As the night drew to a close, nearly all the fans from the game snapped photos and chatted with Taylor, Peevy, Cunningham and the rest of the players and coaches until security ushered them to the exits.
As Taylor departed with Cunningham, some remaining Marist students continued to make sure his homecoming was appreciated, yelling “We love you, Morgan!”
Chris Pennant covers the Chicago Bulls and basketball in general for WARR