Men’s Basketball Storms Back Into NEC Picture

Patrick Gustavson and Griffin Garcia

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Entering week five of Northeast Conference play, it was a grim outlook for Central Connecticut’s men’s basketball team. Having lost four games in a row, they sat two games out of the final NEC playoff spot with an uphill battle to get back in contention. But they managed to shake their losing ways, defeating both Saint Francis (BKN) and Bryant at home, putting them back into the postseason picture.

The Blue Devils took a close home victory against the Terriers, who were the second-ranked team in the NEC going into the game and one of two teams (Robert Morris) to have above .500 records both overall and in the conference overall.

Head coach Donyell Marshall was well aware that this was a critical game for his team.

“When you’re on a losing streak, nobody is going to hand you a win. You have to go out and get it,” Marshall said.

Everyone wearing a Blue Devil uniform was locked into the game. The bench was electric throughout the contest, to the point that they received a warning from the officials.

“We preach that we’re a team, when the guys on the bench are cheering for you it helps give you energy. I thought today we had a good atmosphere all throughout the bench. I’ll take getting warnings from the ref than have to tell the team to get up and cheer,” Marshall said.

Leading the way for the Blue Devils was senior forward, Tyler Kohl, who scored a game-high 29 points. It is the first time that the 16.8 points per game scorer broke 20 points in his last 6 games. Kohl also added 12 rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Also scoring in double digits for the Blue Devils was junior, Jamir Coleman (15), senior Deion Bute (12) and freshman, Ian Krishnan (16).

The game came down to the wire, with a score of 72-70 in favor of CCSU with two minutes remaining, the Blue Devils went 6-6 from the free throw line, leaving the score 78-72 at the game’s end.

The success at the free throw line was not a surprise for Central, however, as they rank 12th in the nation in free throw percentage.

The Blue Devils faced another critical match-up when they welcomed Bryant on Saturday, who stunned the Blue Devils with a buzzer-beater just the week prior.

The game started off like the previous meeting, with both teams staying within a half dozen points or so, with Central leading 25-19 with just over three minutes remaining in the half. But Bryant went on a 14-1 run, taking a 33-26 lead to the half.

Marshall said his team relaxed too much when they had the lead.

The Blue Devils did not come out of the gates roaring in the second half, scoring just two points in the first seven minutes. Unable to get stops, CCSU trailed by 11 with five minutes left to play.

But they slowly started chipping away at the Bulldog lead, which Marshall cited to an uptick in tempo. He said this led to guys getting open from three and Kohl being able to get to the basket. And Kohl did just that, getting to the free throw line and making just enough shots to prevent a Bulldog comeback.

Kohl led all scorers with 23 while contributing 13 rebounds and four assists, his second double-double of the week.

Kohl had struggled immensely against Saint Francis (PA) and Robert Morris, taking just two shots in the latter contest and sitting for the final eight minutes.

“I was just in my feelings, to be honest,” Kohl said following the SFBK contest. “As a senior, I can’t let that happen. I have a lot of leadership on this team.”

Kohl added Saturday that he was able to stay positive, despite being “frustrated at how the game was going.”

“Sometimes, he’s got to get out of his head and just play,” Marshall said of Kohl.

The team now sits at 4-6 in the NEC, tied for the final playoff spot with LIU Brooklyn.

They now face the daunting Pennsylvania road trip when they take on SFU and RMU next week, who both beat the Blue Devils at Detrick Gymnasium in January.

“We’ve just got to play hard. Saint Francis PA, it was a good game the first time we played them, things happened at the under-eight-minute mark. And then Robert Morris caught us after that game where we had a little bit of in-house problems,” Marshall said. “For us, we’ve got to focus on ourselves and that’s the way we’ve been approaching it.”