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Men’s Basketball Looks to Overcome Early Conference Struggles

By Patrick Gustavson

The non-conference season was very kind to Central Connecticut State University’s men’s basketball team.

After failing to eclipse six wins in each of the last three seasons, the Blue Devils went 7-6 against teams outside the Northeast Conference, including a signature victory against East Carolina.

The upward trend appeared to be continuing when the team defeated Saint Francis (PA) to start their NEC schedule. The Red Flash were projected to win the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, so it appeared the Blue Devils were destined to contend.

However, the team took a hit in their second conference game against Robert Morris, where they lost 71-57, in a game that was not as close as the score indicates. Head coach Donyell Marshall was less than pleased by his team’s performance, saying “we aren’t as good as we think we are” and suggested his team play with more energy and work harder.

Things did not turn around quickly. They went on to lose three more games against Fairleigh Dickinson, Mount St. Mary’s, and Saint Francis (BKN), with the last two not being particularly close.

The poor performance could be attributed to being without leading scorer, Tyler Kohl, who sprained his ankle, causing him to miss the game against FDU and not be 100 percent against the Mount. Junior guard Austin Nehls also struggled during this span, going 5-21 on three-point attempts.

This leads into Saturday’s contest against Bryant. Both teams entered at 1-4 in conference play, tied for last. The Blue Devils prevailed, defeating the Bulldogs 80-76. Kohl led the way with 25 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, his second straight game scoring 20 or more points.

Nehls also rebounded, scoring 14 points, nailing four shots from beyond the arc.

“We tell him ‘you’ve got to shoot the ball.’ Especially against teams like this who play the zone, he’s going to be a zone buster,” Marshall said.
Following the game, Marshall stressed the importance of the win: “You don’t want to drop to 1-5. You get back to 2-4, you start building your win streak. It’s a big confidence booster. We’re still right there. We’ve just got to continue to fight. But you want to win this one and not fall to the bottom, to the basement.”
In addition to Kohl and Nehls, Marshall believes the play of his other guards will be crucial to the team’s play. Sophomore point guard, Tyson Batiste, who missed seven games with an undisclosed injury, had his most productive game of the season against Bryant, scoring nine points, to go with five rebounds and three assists.
“It gives us another point guard. It gives us another leader, another voice. I think the team really respects him. He speaks up a lot,” Marshall said. “He played well. I think the good part about our team, with Tyson and Eric [Bowles], is they both pull for each other. When they’re not on the floor, they feel the other guy can do the job.”
Redshirt junior, Shakaris Laney, also received praise from Marshall, whom he referred to as the spark for the team—something they desperately needed after losing four straight games.
An issue still plaguing the team is allowing teams back in the game when up by double digits. They led by nearly 20 against Saint Francis (PA), but won by just four. They also nearly squandered double digit leads in both halves against Bryant, but still managed to pull out the victory.
“We need to continue the way we play that got us that lead. We can’t take our foot off the gas. We go up ten and we think teams are going to quit. Because we keep giving up the lead, teams continue to believe that they’re always going to be in the game,” Marshall said on the matter.
Marshall believes finishing the game will be the key to their next game tomorrow against FDU. The Blue Devils will look to get revenge on the Knights and continue to improve their NEC record.