By Nick Rosa
The Blue Devils men’s basketball team improved to 7-1 at home this season and 6-1 in the Northeast Conference after defeating the Bryant Bulldogs 69-51 at home last Thursday night.
The win completes the season sweep of the Bulldogs and the Blue Devils go to 9-8 overall on the season.
On Thursday night, freshman Kyle Vinales opened the game with a quick seven points by hitting his first 3-point attempt and then four fast break points for layups thanks to a steal and strong rebound by senior Kenny Horton in the first two minutes of the game to go-ahead 7-2.
At half the Blue Devils left to the locker room with a strong double-digit lead ahead of the Bulldogs 31-20. Efforts from Horton and Vinales gave the home team an advantage over Bryant.
Horton had six points, nine rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Vinales had 10 points and two steals. CCSU also had some bench help from Joe Efese and David Simmons going for a combined 5-7 from the field. Effese made use of his time with seven points while grabbing four rebounds in just 10 minutes of play.
Bryant didn’t help themselves out in the first half by shooting a minimal 25.8 percent from the field and turning the ball over eight times, which allowed the Blue Devils to score nine points off those turnovers. CCSU countered with 41.2 percent from the field to lead the first half of the contest.
CCSU had a game plan, dominating the Bulldogs in the second half. CCSU’s defense was able to keep the Bulldogs’ shooting at bay by only allowing them to go 11-28 from the field and 2-14 from beyond the arc. While CCSU was able to move around the Bulldogs defense shooting 13-27 from the field and 5-12 from the 3-point line.
Overall the Bulldogs finished 19-59 a mere 32.2 percent from the field and 5-25 from the 3-point line, while the Blue Devils outshot them by going 27-61 and 7-21.
The highlight of the game was an alley-oop from Vinales to Horton, where Horton went up and grabbed the ball with one hand and slammed it down with intensity as the home crowd cheered the loudest they did all night.
“He catches everything Kenny, he catches everything,” said Head Coach Howie Dickenman. “He’s like a praying mantis, catches the ball and slams it down.”
Horton added, “He [Vinales] kind of threw it a little far, but I was able to get it and throw it down and that gave us a little spark, a little bit more energy, the whole crowd and everything. It was good for that to go down.”
The Blue Devils lead by double-digits the whole game, going into half-time ahead by 11 and winning the game by 18 points.
Great performances from Horton, Vinales, and freshman Malcolm McMillan helped move the game in the Blue Devils’ favor. Horton had 18 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one block and a steal. This was his 25th career double-double and on Saturday added to that streak with his 26th with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Horton also lifted a huge load off his shoulders after hitting his first 3-pointer in his last 20 attempts.
When asked how it felt about finally hitting that 3-pointer, he simply replied with a laugh and a smile, “That was like a big weight lifted off my back, it felt so good, so good.”
Vinales also had a game from the field going 4-7 from the three point line and 7-16 overall with 18 points, a rebound and seven assists.
McMillan also did his part on the court by getting 10 assists without committing a turnover. The freshman may have scored no points but he helped set the tempo of the game and did his part on the court.
“Every game Kenny comes out and tells me to set the tempo, that’s my job, set the tempo for the team, run the team, especially defensively and lock down that point guard,” McMillan said. “Scoring I leave it up Robby [Ptacek], Kyle, and Kenny, those guys, that’s their thing. They score and I just give them the ball and play defense. That’s my job and that’s what I try to do every game,” the freshman added.
Dickenman added to McMillan’s performance by saying, “He wants to please his teammates, he wants to please the coaches. He has Central Connecticut basketball mentality.”
Ptacek had a slow game only shooting 2-11 from the field and missing all five of his 3-point shots, but still produced for the team defensively. He had nine points, seven rebounds and one assist, while going perfect from the free throw line going 5-5, all in the second half. The senior is now shooting 93 percent from the line this season, which also ranks him as the second-best free-throw shooter in the nation, as of Thursday night.
“Robby’s defense was better than his offense but not really worried about his offense,” said Dickenman. Ptacek had six of his nine rebounds come from the defensive side while adding a steal.
The bench also provided some protection with the trio of Efese, senior David Simmons and sophomore Terrell Allen combined to hit 7-of-11 from the field, and had 16 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes of play, while only committing one turnover between the three.
CCSU’s “Big Three” of Ptacek, Horton, and Vinales managed to score 45 of the teams 69 points and showing why they are a force in the NEC conference to not take lightly.
The Blue Devils will be back in action at home Thursday Jan, 26 at 7 p.m. at Detrick Gymnasium against NEC opponent Monmouth University