Wow, what a fricken game! After falling behind 26-41 with a little over 12 minutes left in the 1st half (4.1% win expectancy, according to Bart Torvik’s site), the Blue Devils stormed back, finally taking the lead with 9:30 left, then holding on for a 75-68 win Tuesday night.
The Blue Devils put up a respectable 1.06 PPP overall, which is in line with the D1 average last season, but really put the clamps down defensively in the second half; the Hawks shot just 31% in the second period, including 4 of 16 from three, and turned it over nine times (17 overall).
CCSU did just about all of its damage in the paint, as they were 24 for 42 at the rim (58%); however, they took just seven three-pointers (making two), and were also 3 for 12 on two-point jumpers.
As we expected might be the case coming into the season, the Blue Devils were all over the offensive glass, gobbling up over 40% of their offensive rebounding opportunities led by Tyler Kohl and Deion Bute with four each (Joe Hugley also added three).
What more can you say about Tyler Kohl? If it’s possible to have a “quiet” 30 point game, Kohl did just that last night (h/t Eric). With that said, he literally took the game over and put the team on his back beginning at around the 10 minute mark in the first half. His 40% usage rate was the second highest of his career, and the Blue Devils needed every one of those possessions. He would not be denied at the rim (9 of 17 overall), and John Gallagher just didn’t have someone who could match up with him. He bullied JR Lynch and Jason Dunne at times given the size difference, and used his quickness to get around George Blagojevic.
But what’s more; is there a better passer in the league? Late in the game, pinned on the baseline, Kohl threaded two defenders with a perfect pass to a cutting Karrington Wallace, who was ultimately fouled while attempting a dunk (don’t bring it behind your head young fella!).
Kohl has a knack for letting the game come to him early, only to take over late, and that’s exactly what he did last night. Keith Braxton of SFU was a deserving pre-season NEC POY, but Kohl will be right there when it’s all said and done. He’s a stud.
The biggest takeaway from the season-opening win was the variety of lineups that Donyell Marshall has at his disposal. Early in the first half, Deion Bute was doing work on the offensive end of the floor (scored the team’s first six points), however he was having major difficulty getting out on the perimeter to guard Hartford big John Carroll, who knocked down two early three-pointers. So Marshall went to his bench, bringing in the more athletic Joe Hugley, which helped the defense get the team back in the game.
Given the versatility of guys like Kohl and Jamir Coleman, who can each guard three positions, Marshall can go big at times with a lineup of Kohl (6’5”), Hicks (6’6”), Coleman (6’7”), Hugley (6’7”) and Bute (6’9”), and they can also go “skilled”, putting Hugley at the 5, Coleman at the 4 and Kohl at the 3 (Kohl at the 4 is also an option).
Additionally, while Joe Hugley and Thai Segwai both came off the bench, they were both on the floor during the game’s critical minutes in place of Coleman and Batiste, respectively. I get the sense Marshall wanted Segwai’s defense in at the end of the game, as he’s probably the team’s best perimeter defender at this point, and Hugley’s ability to knock down shots and rebound was necessary in crunch time. It doesn’t matter who starts; it’s about the finishers.
The Point Guards
Based on the small sample size that we have, there appears to be a time share of ~60/40 at the point guard spot, with Batiste getting the lion’s share of the minutes, but Segwai also getting legitimate rotation time; though it’s also worth noting that Kohl played the final two minutes of the first half as the primary ball handler.
Sitting behind the team’s bench last night, I got a clear view of Batiste’s leadership; he and Marshall seem to be in sync in regards to which plays to run, and he’s very involved with each and every player. His offensive output was fine; 1 for 2 from the field, 1 for 2 from the line, 5 assists and 2 turnovers, though his first free throw was well off, and I do worry about that sort of thing getting in his head. He did come back to swish the second attempt, however I do wonder if free throw shooting was part of the reason he was on the bench during crunch time. (Editor’s note: On a personal level, I don’t think I’m rooting for anyone more than Tyson Batiste this season; I just dig his whole attitude, and as the longest tenured Blue Devil, I want to see him experience success).
Segwai, meanwhile, was a stalwart defensively; Lynch had tons of trouble getting anywhere when Segwai was guarding him, and was forced into some ugly looking shots. His issues are on the offensive end; he was 0 for 3 from the field, two of which were layups (as well as a 5 foot floater). CCSU doesn’t need him to give them much offense, but he’s got to be able to convert run outs.
The Blue Devils had seven blocked shots last night, and it wasn't just one guy; Coleman and Wallace each had two, while Bute, Hicks, and Batiste had one block each. And it’s not a fluke; there’s a ton of length on this team, and there were times when the Hartford guards were scared to try and get a shot off in the paint. Don’t be shocked if CCSU leads the NEC in blocked shots this season.
After not playing in the exhibition game, Kashaun Hicks logged 17 minutes (mostly at the 2), and while he didn’t provide a ton of offense, I thought he played much better on the defensive end. I think a year ago, Hicks would have forced up two or three shots that weren’t there, earning himself a seat on the bench. Last night he played within himself, and his one three point attempt was halfway down.
One of the reasons Hicks played as much as he did was due to Ian Krishnan’s general frustrations. He had a difficult time finding any offense, and also picked up three fouls in the second half (though two were highly questionable). Of course, he did have a big three-pointer nullified due to an illegal screen. But I do wonder if an injury to his left hand/thumb (it was wrapped) affected his game at all. Not worried about Krishnan one bit.
It kind of got lost in the mix, but how good was Deion Bute last night? 6 of 8 from the field, 3 of 4 from the line, 15 points, 11 boards; ho hum. It’s what Deion Bute does. I said in the Arcadia recap that I was not worried about him, and yeah…this dude is for real. Having a big man who can knock down free throws is such a luxury.
Last season in conference play, Marshall made a concerted effort to get Bute the ball on the first offensive trip of the game, almost without fail. Tuesday night was more of the same; the first two trips, Bute got the ball in the low post. The first was a turnaround over John Carroll, the second was an offensive foul.
14 turnovers in 71 possessions (~20%) is still too high, though it’s an improvement on last season (21.8%). However, it did feel like there were fewer careless turnovers.
Interestingly, though not surprisingly, Jamir Coleman handled the tip off (I’m almost positive Bute won the jump in the exhibition game). If you got a chance to watch pre-game warmups, you would know that Coleman can absolutely fly. I’d put my money on him winning an NEC dunk contest.
CCSU was 15 for 20 from the free throw line (75%), with Kohl handling the bulk of the attempts (8 for 9). Last year they shot 70% from the charity stripe as a team. I’d sign for 75% in a heartbeat.
The Blue Devils attempted just 12 two-point jumpers (20%), which is probably still a bit high but fewer than last season (23.2%).
CCSU jumped 18 spots in Kenpom after the win, from #304 to #286. It doesn’t matter at all, but it’s fun (at least for me) to track these things.
What happened to John Carroll in the second half? Possibly leg cramps (h/t Larry). He played just ten minutes, half of which it seemed he played with just one shoe. The Hawks looked like a different team with him off the floor, and allowed CCSU to go big as Bute was having a difficult time with Carroll defensively.
How about George Blagojevic? 19 points (on 8 of 10 shooting) and 6 boards, and he’s also really active defensively. He played just 43% of possible minutes as a junior, but looked like one of the best players on their team last night.
I still think Hartford’s top five is as good as anyone in the America East, but they have no depth. Eddie Davis, the grad transfer from Southern Miss, looked out of sync in his nine minutes, and Max Twyman didn’t do much other than knock down a three pointer (he also missed two free throws).
Maybe I was ahead of myself with anointing the Hawks as an NCAA Tournament team this year, or maybe CCSU is just that good.
CCSU heads to Washington DC to take on the Hoyas of Georgetown on Saturday, 11/10 at 6pm. Georgetown took care of Maryland-Eastern Shore Tuesday Night 68-53.