NEW BRITAIN - Seven games into last season, the Central Connecticut State menâ€™s basketball team found itself halfway through what ended up becoming a 12-game losing streak with its only win coming against the Division-III Coast Guard Academy.
The disastrous losing skid ended with a 44-point win over Connecticut College, another Division-III team, which was the only victory that came the Blue Devilsâ€™ way before Northeast Conference play began.
While the circumstances are radically different, CCSU (2-5, 2-2 NEC) is feeling much better about itself this time around at the seven-game mark of the season. Already with two conference wins after only having three last year, the team believes itâ€™s trending upward entering winter break.
â€ś[The chemistry] is starting to build,â€ť junior forward Karrington Wallace said. â€śFrom last year to this year, I feel like itâ€™s a big difference. Weâ€™ve grown and weâ€™re really starting to click.â€ť
The Blue Devils closed out their December schedule by beating St. Francis Brooklyn 76-59 on Wednesday, the day after losing to the Terries, playing lockdown defense and displaying their ever-growing cohesion and versatility. With 14 games remaining on the schedule, all of which are against NEC teams, they are looking to surprise people and show how much they improved from last season.
â€śWeâ€™re turning it around,â€ť junior guard Ian Krishnan said â€śPeople need to start getting behind us now. Itâ€™s a fresh mindset now that we got this win. Weâ€™re going to come out strong, weâ€™re feeling confident and weâ€™re going to do well.â€ť
After allowing more than 90 points for the first time since the season opener against UConn in the Tuesday against St. Francis Brooklyn, CCSU head coach Donyell Marshall knew his teamâ€™s defense needed to improve for the season to be successful and focused on the importance of drawing charges. Despite no time between games to practice anything or make sweeping changes to the game plan, the Blue Devilsâ€™ players took their coachâ€™s words to heart and held the Terriers to a season-low 59 points, controlling the tempo of the game by taking charges.
â€śWe told them [Tuesday] that if we got four [charges], we would win,â€ť Marshall said, â€śI think [Wednesday] we had five or six and it turned into [a] win. I think right now theyâ€™re believing in us, theyâ€™re trusting us and itâ€™s translating to the court.â€ť
While the charges were a counter specifically to St. Francis Brooklynâ€™s drive-and-kick offense, CCSUâ€™s willingness to hit the floor to force a turnover will be an impactful part of their defensive approach.
â€śWhen you have a team thatâ€™s a driving team and the want to drive to paint to kick for open shots, once they get a couple charges, they donâ€™t want to drive in the paint anymore,â€ť Marshall said. â€śIt kind of helps take away from their offensive schemes.â€ť
The Blue Devils enhanced chemistry is also making them harder to guard on the offensive end as they continue to feature a variety of scoring options. Six players reached double-digit scoring in the win over the Terriers after four players eclipsed the 10-point mark the night before.
Spreading the opportunities on offense not only forces the defense to focus on guarding all five offensive player, but also takes the pressure off of the scorers to carry the scoring load and instead find their moments to contribute. Wallace offered six straight points on the run that helped build CCSUâ€™s first lead of the game and an eight-point spurt from Krishnan in the second half helped solidify the lead.
â€śFor us, itâ€™s always sharing the basketball,â€ť Marshall said. â€śWe feel like we have a lot of good players and thatâ€™s a thing I think that helps us out, we donâ€™t have one or two guys you have to focus on to stop, we have five or six guys that at any given night could go off and I think thatâ€™s what helped us out.â€ť
The team may be feeling good now after winning, but they have a long break until their next contest Jan. 7 when they travel to Bryant for a pair of games. If this energy is able to last through New Years and the players take care of themselves, they are excited for the basketball ahead of them in January and February, and Marshall sees his group as more than resilient enough to weather this intermission and come back ready to play.
â€śThe guys want to get better,â€ť Marshall said. â€śThe good thing is theyâ€™ve been through it with the pandemic. Right now, itâ€™s just making sure they get some rest as well as stay healthy and continuously watch a lot of film and show them what we can continuously work on.â€ť
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com