In the hours leading up to the Central Connecticut men’s basketball game against Sacred Heart on Thursday, word began to circulate that Ken Horton would not be in the lineup due to a concussion.
Things only got worse from there. Sacred Heart made fifteen three pointers as they decimated CCSU on their home floor, 101-67.
It was the worst home loss in years for a Central team that is floundering down the stretch.
“Tonight, it was just an overall poor performance on our part,” said Central head coach Howie Dickenman. “We need to find some intensity. If we keep this up, we’re playing ourselves out of the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.”
Pioneers’ guard Corey Hassan torched the Blue Devils for a gamehigh 21 points on eight of thirteen shooting. Five other players scored in double digits for Sacred Heart, who improved to 10-6 in the Northeast Conference. The Blue Devils fell behind early and were never able to recover.
Each of the first five CCSU offensive possessions resulted in a turnover. Sacred Heart capitalized on those turnovers, jumping out to a 9-0 lead in the first 3:10 of play.
“They had nine points before we even took a shot,” said Dickenman. “We were never able to recover. We were never even close to recovering, to be honest with you.”
Central’s struggles with turnovers were compounded by the accurate shooting of the Pioneers. Sacred Heart shot over 62 percent from the field in the game, was 60 percent from beyond the arc, and senior forward Joey Henley made all six of the team’s free throws.
Amidst all the negatives, Central did get some much-needed life from freshman guard Kyle Desmarais. The Montreal, Quebec native came into Thursday night averaging just over five minutes of playing time per game. He made an impact immediately, scoring seven points to lead all CCSU scorers in the first half. By the end of the evening, he had played 29 minutes, scored a career-high 11 points, all while tacking on four rebounds, three assists and three steals.
“Kyle gave us a spark coming off the bench,” Dickenman said. “He just kind of reacted and was very energetic.”
Shemik Thompson, who had a team-high 13 points on the night, also was complimentary of Desmarais’ play.
“I know he got me going,” said Thompson. “He definitely stepped up. He plays hard.”
Thompson was once again the most consistent Blue Devil on the floor, grabbing a pair of rebounds and dishing out two assists in a losing effort. His effort did not match his stat line, in large part due to his teammates’ struggles to finish.
Central shot just 33 percent from the field in the first 20 minutes, almost half of what Sacred Heart was shooting. Once again, just like the previous week’s upset at the hands of FDU, missed lay-ups proved costly for the Blue Devils.
“Even though we started bad,” said Thompson, “if we made those lay-ups that we missed, then we would have been right in the game.”
Central never led at any point in the game, while Sacred Heart found themselves up by 19 after just the first half. The Blue Devils trailed by 15 in the first half, found a way to whittle the deficit down to 4, but coul
d muster no further comeback.
It was a far cry from the game at the William H. Pitt Center in January in which Central lost 77-69. The Blue Devils were able to bounce back from such a crushing defeat on Saturday, as they took down St. Francis (NY), 78-73. An undermanned CCSU team missing Ken Horton, Tamir Johnson, and Chris Baskerville was able to overcome the short bench to get a key win and clinch a NEC Tournament berth.
“There was a little bit more pressure, with eight players and needing a win, there was a bit more, but not a lot,” Thompson said. “With three people out, we had to step up.”
Freshman Robby Ptacek and senior Marcus Palmer each contributed a team-high 17 points in the victory, while sophomore David Simmons posted a double-double with 16 points and ten rebounds. Simmons played a key role down the stretch as Central tried to preserve the lead. With a two-point lead, Shemik Thompson was fouled with just 11 seconds left. He missed both free throws, but Simmons was able to grab the offensive rebound, and was fouled.
Despite shooting just under 52 percent from the line on the season, he knocked down both free throws to ice the victory for CCSU.
“This was a statement game for ourselves,” said Simmons. “We are normally a great team at home.”
Central hosts Monmouth on Senior Night this Thursday at 7 p.m., before closing out the regular season at in-state rival Quinnipiac on Saturday in a key NEC match up. With the split this past week, CCSU is now 13-14 overall and 8-8 in the conference.
-Kyle Dorau, Sports Editor: email@example.com