NEW BRITAIN - Without its head coach for the first six games and with a trio of junior college transfers seeing meaningful playing time for the CCSU men’s basketball team, a slow start to the season wouldn’t have been a surprise for a program that won just six games all of last year.
That hasn’t been the case as all three transfer players - Tyler Kohl, Deion Bute and Joe Hugley - have played an integral role in the strong start for the Blue Devils, who now sit at 4-3 on the young season and have won four straight games for the first time since 2012 after beating North Carolina A&T 72-59 on Thursday.
“That’s why we were so excited about [the transfers] and why we went and got them,” CCSU head coach Donyell Marshall said. “Those guys are playing well and have all come from winning programs. All those guys got a chip on their shoulder because of all the guys that have overlooked them.
“They came here because they knew what direction we were going. They knew we wanted to prove people wrong and they wanted to prove people wrong so it was a match made in heaven.”
Kohl is the leading scorer for the Blue Devils this season coming over from Mineral Area College (MO). The junior point guard is averaging 14.9 points per game and displaying an all-around game with 8.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists a game to go with his production in the scoring column.
“For him, it’s not about the points,” Marshall said. “And I compared him to [Femi Olujobi] from North Carolina A&T. If you look at [Olujobi] if he’s not scoring what else can he do? Whereas with Tyler, if he’s not scoring he can impact the game in different ways. You saw the nice passes he made, the rebounds he made. So with Tyler, it’s not always going to be about scoring.”
Bute has been a mainstay in the paint as the big man for CCSU after transferring in from Tallahassee Community College (FL). The junior center averages 2.0 blocks per game and has eight blocks over the four-game win streak, two in each game.
Offensively, Bute has put together three games in double digit scoring.
He was expected to be the rim protector coming into the season and against the Aggies he was as he played a crucial role in slowing down Olujobi, the nation’s second-leading scorer, who had a season-low 14 points after scoring 20 points or more in each of his first six games.
While both Kohl and Bute start for the Blue Devils, the hero of the game against North Carolina A&T was Hugley.
Although Hugley started the season off slow due to injuries, he has quickly turned it on and ascended into a key role coming over from Baltimore City Community College.
Against North Carolina A&T Hugley scored a career-high 21 points, which led the team in scoring and he has scored in double digits in the past three wins for CCSU.
The sophomore forward has brought energy off the bench as the sixth man, a role he has relished for the Blue Devils this season.
“He’s been giving us a spark being that sixth man for us,” CCSU player Austin Nehls said of Hugley. “Right when he gets in the game, he’s able to score and that’s his job to score. He can also rebound and just give us energy. When you bring a player off the bench the first guy you want them to bring energy to the rest of the players.”
Since the three transfers have all stepped into key roles for a CCSU team that primarily plays seven players deep in its rotation, Nehls has had to adjust into a role that he gets less shot opportunities after being the team’s second-leading scorer last year with (13.4 ppg) and the leading scorer that returned for this season.
But having other reliable options on offense has helped ease the burden on him and given him the ability to be able to find the right shot with less defensive attention being drawn to him.
“It took a little while to get used to,” Nehls said. “In the first game I was able to get a lot of shots, but in the next two I had my lowest field goal attempts in my career here, so I was kind of wondering what my role was. These last few games I’ve been able to realize that we can play off each other well. So even though I’ve been taking on a smaller role in the offense, it’s been an easier role and been able to get easier shots because the defense isn’t always focused on me because we have three other guys that the defense needs to focus on.”
With Kohl, Bute and Hugley all coming from winning programs at the junior college level, the three believe their experience will be able to instill a winning mentality for the Blue Devils program that has been looking for a spark to do so.
So far, it has been going as hoped and with a pair of big games coming against DePaul and Boston College in the next two weeks, the progress of CCSU will be something to watch and in order to sustain the success seen thus far, all three must continue playing at a high level.
“We prepare the same way and I think that’s what’s helping us get to where we are today,” Hugley said. “We don’t look at the name on the jersey or conference and think we got to change anything. I think if we continue playing the way we’ve been playing and take care of business in practice we’re going to be just fine. We’re just worried about what we do and if we do what we do than everything will take care of itself.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan