It’s a tradition unlike any other in college basketball.
Every first Friday in December for the last 23 years, students, faculty, alumni, and the Taylor University community gather at Odle Arena for a night of basketball, festivities, and most importantly, fun. It’s one of the university’s most popular sporting events of the year – and one that Taylor students gear themselves up for weeks in advance.
“It’s the best home court advantage in the country on this Friday in December,” Taylor Head Coach Josh Andrews said. “It really is. It doesn’t lose its appeal at any time. You really start to feel it in the mid-afternoon, and to see everybody outside and in our fieldhouse…it’s pretty crazy.”
Inside the arena was a scene that would give the Cameron Crazies at Duke or the Oakland Zoo at Pittsburgh a run for their money. From floor to ceiling, Odle was full of students dressed up in costumes ranging from former IU head coach Bobby Knight to the Men in Black to Andrew Luck to the cow from the Chick-fil-A commercials.
And the energy that emanated from the crowd was electric from the opening tip to the final whistle.
“It’s an event for our community at the end of the day, and the basketball team gets to be featured in it,” Taylor shooting guard Mason Degenkolb said. “We are super happy to be able to provide the event to create the atmosphere for the community.”
Heading into their 23rd Silent Night contest against the Ohio-Chillicothe Hilltoppers, the Taylor Trojans had a record of 21-1 – their only loss coming last season.
But on Friday night, a dominant performance on both ends of the floor helped the Trojans record win No. 22, as they defeated the Hilltoppers by a score of 89-50.
As is tradition in the Silent Night game, the crowd must remain silent until the Trojans score 10 points.
Luckily for the fans in attendance, it only took the Trojans 2:23 to reach that 10-point threshold.
Degenkolb opened the game with a triple, and both James McCloud and Jason Hubbard followed with field goals to give the Trojans a 7-0 advantage.
After the Hilltoppers answered with a three of their own, the basketball found its way into the hands of Taylor point guard Ryan Robinson. The senior made no mistake, sinking Taylor’s second three-pointer of the contest and sending the Taylor crowd into a frenzy.
“Everybody acts like they don’t want it, but it’s a pretty cool thing,” Robinson said. “I’m grateful that I got the chance to get it for sure.”
The students stormed the court, screaming and cheering at the top of their lungs, and from that moment on, Odle Arena was as loud and boisterous as any major college fieldhouse in the nation.
“We joke around that we’re kind of the side show, [and] that the fans and the students are the real main event,” Robinson said. “It’s awesome, after that 10th point, just getting the crowd behind you, it’s amazing. We had the best student section in the country tonight for sure.”
Hartman’s second three pulled the Hilltoppers to within four points, but that was as close as Ohio-Chillicothe would get to the Trojans for the rest of the evening. Back-to-back threes from Degenkolb and Robinson gave the Trojans a double-digit advantage – one they would hold the rest of the way.
The Trojans steadily increased their lead throughout the first half, leading by as many as 24 points with 5:29 left. The Hilltoppers cut the Trojans led down to 16 with 19 seconds left, but Degenkolb’s fifth triple of the game gave Taylor a 47-28 advantage heading into halftime.
Coming into Friday’s contest, the Trojans had really struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter, particularly in their first two conference games. Against Marian, the Trojans shot just three-of-22 (13.6 percent), and against Grace they shot seven-of-29 (24.1 percent).
But against the Hilltoppers, the Trojans were lights out in the first half. In the opening 20 minutes, the Trojans shot 16-of-31 from the field (51.6 percent) and a scorching nine-of-13 from beyond the arc (69.2 percent.)
“That was the first time we shot it in at home like that from the perimeter,” Andrews said. “That was a really good thing.”
Degenkolb was five-of-seven in the first half, scoring 15 points.
“At the end of the day, we knew we still had to come out and play,” Degenkolb said. “It’s nice for us to see the ball go through. In the past couple of games, we haven’t shot very it well. Just to get that confidence back from some of our guys, including myself, hopefully we use it as a springboard into conference play.
After their offense carried them in the first half, Taylor’s defense was the story after halftime. Ohio-Chillicothe scored their first two points of the second half with 17:44 on the clock, and they would not score again until the 9:55 mark – nearly eight minutes of game time.
“We settled in that second half,” Andrews said. “We defended better. I was proud of the guys for trying to make the right play. I thought we passed the ball well. They played with a good spirit tonight, and you want to do that in this environment.”
A field goal by Degenkolb put the Trojans up by 41 points, 71-30, halfway through the second stanza, and the Trojans led between 36-46 points the rest of the way before cruising to their eventual 39-point triumph.
Four of Taylor’s five starters finished in double figures with Degenkolb leading the way with 23 points.
For Degenkolb, it was his final Silent Night basketball game, and as he gets ready for the next stage of his life, this experience is something he will never forget.
“I just feel really blessed to be a part of something that is way bigger than me,” Degenkolb said. “To be a part of the tradition of Silent Night at Taylor has been awesome. To have my family be able to come and watch me and just enjoy the atmosphere is just an amazing opportunity for me as a 22-year old guy on a basketball team. It’s a tradition that’s nowhere else in the world.”
Hubbard collected 15 points and six rebounds. CJ Penha posted 13 points and added a team-high eight rebounds, while Robinson added 11 points in the victory.
Gabriele Chiossi led the Hilltoppers with 14 points, while Hartman finished with nine.
For the game, Taylor shot 31-of-64 from the field (48.4 percent) and 11-of-22 (50 percent) from the perimeter.
After putting together one of their best performances of the season, Andrews hopes that this game will help carry them into the meat of their conference schedule.
“This game came at the right time,” Andrews said. “In the league, we had some really good looks in those first two Crossroads League and they just weren’t [falling.] You sneak this game in here, and hopefully that eases us up as a team.”