by Patrick Gustavson
Following a four-game losing streak, Central Connecticut State University’s men’s basketball team has won three games in a row. Following victories against Fairleigh Dickinson and LIU Brooklyn, the team is now 4-4 in the Northeast Conference.
The Blue Devils entered Thursday’s game against Fairleigh Dickinson with a 2-4 record in the NEC. The last time the two teams met Jan. 4, the Knights prevailed with an 81-77 victory. However, the Blue Devils were without their leading scorer, Tyler Kohl, who was dealing with an ankle injury.
Kohl was active on Thursday, helping his team to a 66-65 win. Leading the way for the Blue Devils was center Deion Bute, who had a career-high 22 points on 9-10 shooting, as well as being perfect from the free-throw line.
The win certainly did not come easy for the team, who led by as many as seven points with less than four minutes remaining. However, the Knights clawed their way back, cutting the lead to 64-63 with under a minute left to play.
The last 50 seconds of the game could be described as chaos. The Blue Devils had three different opportunities to ice the game from the free-throw line. However, Kohl and Austin Nehls combined to miss three straight from the line.
“I thought the game was over,” head coach Donyell Marshall said.
Following the misses, the Knights made two free-throws of their own, taking the lead.
The play that ended up winning the Blue Devils the game was just the way they drew it up, per Marshall. Kohl drove, attracting the defender, and dished it to Bute for the emphatic slam, but the game was not over. On the inbound, the Knights were fouled on a controversial call. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, the Knights missed the free-throw, clinching the game.
Heading into the game, Marshall was concerned about his team’s ability to close, and wasn’t particularly happy with what then ensued, saying: “We didn’t close that well. You can’t let that come back and bite us. The problem is, you fix the turnovers, then it’s the free throws.”
Marshall emphasized his team would have to take care of the basketball and keep up in transition in their next game against LIU Brooklyn.
On Saturday, the Blue Devils were able to do so, defeating the Blackbirds 72-63. Kohl led the way for the team with 20 points, six rebounds and five assists. Nehls also eclipsed double-figures, adding 15 points of his own.
Marshall believed his team did a good job of breaking through the Blackbirds’ intense pressure.
“They tried to junk it up, half-court, full-court, but I thought we did a good job of passing it around and getting open shots,” Marshall said.
Another key to the victory was sophomore forward Joe Hugley who, following a few down games, had eight points and ten rebounds.
“He played hard on defense. He rebounded well [and] some of those rebounds he had were huge. He was important for us tonight,” Marshall explained. “He has to get to a point when his shots aren’t falling that he can do other things and he did that tonight.”
The three straight wins have put the Blue Devils back in the conversation in the NEC. The wins against FDU, LIU and Bryant have positioned them well for the long-run.
“All the stuff we’re starting to do is for tie-breakers,” Marshall said. “That’s why FDU was huge. Now we’re up on Bryant and LIU. We play both of them again next week. And we’re staying close to the top. We’re one game away from the top couple of spots to host a playoff game.”
When asked how the team would prepare for the next time they’d take on the Blackbirds, Marshall was not concerned, saying that they are taking things one game at a time. That next game is at Bryant on Thursday, where the Blue Devils will look to continue climbing the ladder in the NEC.