by Patrick Gustavson
Following a 1-3 start on the road that saw Central Connecticut’s men’s basketball team lose two heartbreakers, the team returned to Detrick Gymnasium for their home opener, that saw them defeat Coppin State by the score of 74-71, in overtime.
The Blue Devils had a lot of momentum coming off a game in which they beat East Carolina by 11 points. The Pirates are a member of the American Athletic Conference, a conference with much higher regards than the Northeast, making it the biggest win for CCSU in years.
Acting head coach Mike Witcoskie believes the momentum acted as a detriment to his team in the early minutes. “For this game, it probably hurt us a little bit. They (Coppin State) were ready to go, they were thinking ‘hey, we’re going to beat the team that just beat ECU.’”
The Blue Devils got off to a slow start in the opening minutes, which saw the Eagles go on an 18-0 run, putting them ahead by 13 after just seven minutes of play. But the team did pull things together a bit to end the half, only trailing by five.
Struggles continued for the team in the second half, down by 10 points following the under eight-minute timeout. “Coach Wit (Witcoskie) told us to keep playing defense, keep getting stops. That was they key to winning, the stops we got down the stretch,” said junior guard Tyler Kohl.
Down 58-51 with under five minutes remaining, the Blue Devils stormed back by blocking shots and forcing turnovers on defense, as well as converting on their high-percentage shot opportunities. They took their first lead of the second half when senior forward Mustafa Jones threw down an emphatic dunk, bringing the crowd to their feet, now up 59-58.
Following some back and forth scoring, the game was tied at 62 with just a minute left to play. Guard Austin Nehls nearly won it for the Blue Devils at the buzzer, but his three-point attempt just rimmed out, sending the game into overtime.
Kohl dominated the overtime period for the Blue Devils, scoring six of his 19 points in the five-minute period. This contributed to the first double-double of his Blue Devil career (he also had 10 rebounds).
Reigning NEC player of the week Deion Bute continued his strong showings with 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench in just eight minutes. Forward Joe Hugley also contributed with 15 points and six rebounds. Jones also reached double figures, with 10 points of his own.
The Blue Devils were without sophomore starting point guard Tyson Batiste for the second straight game. However, his teammates picked up the load in his absence, facilitating 15 assists, with four coming from junior guard Eric Bowles, and Kohl, respectively.
Witcoskie stills feels there are areas for the team to improve, saying: “we have a lot of growing up to do; handling success. This is a part of the growing pains, but you’d much rather win in the growing pains than lose, so we’ll use this as another learning experience.”
“First, we need to get these guys to realize the potential we have, and then it’s a quest to reach it. And we’ll have to overcome some obstacles. Part of it is learning to be successful day in and day out, and handling our business in a professional manner. And those things will get there. There’s always bumps in the road, it’s not going to be easy, and we need to attack it every single day,” he continued.
The Blue Devils head to Cleveland State on Friday, before returning home to take on North Carolina A&T on Thursday, Nov. 30. They still have eight games remaining before they enter Northeast Conference play.