by Patrick Gustavson
Central Connecticut’s men’s basketball team opened Northeast Conference play on Friday with a win against St. Francis (U), by the score of 72-68.
The Blue Devils never trailed and were even up 20 with three minutes into the second half. However, what looked to be a sure-fire victory nearly turned into a disaster. Down 68-59, the Red Flash went on an 11-0 run, tying the game with just over two minutes to play.
Head coach Donyell Marshall believes the near comeback was due to turning the ball over and poor transition defense, saying: “Our transition defense has to be better. We can’t turn the ball over. I think we’ve shown that we’re a pretty decent half court team, but teams want to get out and run in the transition on us. And when we turn it over, that leads to transitions. We’ve got to take way better care of the basketball.”
Despite this, the Blue Devils were able to hang on for the victory, improving to 8-6 on the season, and 1-0 in the NEC. In the preseason coaches’ poll for the conference, the Red Flash were projected to win the conference, and are still one of the favorites to do so.
However, Marshall and his team were not concerned with who the opponent was, but were rather happy to come away with a win, saying: “Regardless of who it was against, it was great.”
Leading the way for the Blue Devils was forward Joe Hugley, who scored 17 points off the bench, this after missing three games with concussion-like symptoms. Also reaching double figures were forward Mustafa Jones, center Deion Bute, and guard/forward Tyler Kohl.
Kohl, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists, did not start the game. Marshall called the moved a “personal matter” and would not elaborate any further.
The contributions from multiple different players has been another key to the team’s success. The four aforementioned players, as well as guard Austin Nehls, have all led the Blue Devils in scoring in a single game.
“Last year we only had six or seven people who could even play. So, for us to have five different guys who can lead us in scoring, it makes it hard for us to scout. Everyone thinks they’re going to key in on Tyler, but we have so many other guys that can step up,” said Marshall.
This year, the team runs nearly ten players deep, thanks to contributions from freshmen Kashaun Hicks and Talek Williams, who have logged meaningful minutes in recent games, following sparse playing time to start the season.
Following the game, Marshall recalled the team’s first conference game last season, where they were trampled by Wagner by 25 points, a game in which they “got (their) tails handed to (them).”
The team went on to win just four games in conference the rest of the way, but Marshall knows they are destined for more this year. “I think we’ve got guys who know how to win. Guys who went through the losing last year, they don’t want to lose again this year,” he said.
The Blue Devils will look to remain undefeated in conference play when they take on Robert Morris at home on Sunday.