Saturday was Central Connecticut State's penultimate non-conference game, and they moved to 3-0 against the America East Conference with a double-overtime thrilling victory over the Maine Black Bears. The Blue Devils controlled the game throughout, as it took not one, but two buzzer beating three-pointers for UMaine to push the game into two extra frames. Ultimately, there was too much Tyler Kohl, and too many made CCSU free throws for the Black Bears to pull off the upset.
To Foul, or Not To Foul?
Let's start with the end of the game, shall we?
After two Tyler Kohl free throws gave CCSU a 73-70 lead with five seconds left, Donyell Marshall had a decision to make; to intentionally foul, or not?
Ultimately, Donyell Marshall chose to play "straight up", and it didn't work out, as Sergio El Darwich hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to force overtime.
Oh, but we weren't done, as the end of the the first Overtime was almost a mirror image of the end of regulation. After two more Kohl free throws up CCSU up three, El Darwich again hit a buzzer-beating three to tie the game, with CCSU again playing straight up.
Not to be outdone, Maine got a good look from Isaiah White as the clock ran out in double overtime, after two Jamir Coleman free throws again put CCSU up three, but that one didn't fall and the Blue Devils escaped.
Personally, I'm in favor of the "foul up-three" philosophy; I believe the chances of making the first free throw, then missing the second, getting the rebound, and converting a put back are much less likely to happen than a player making a three-pointer. However, the basketball community is largely split on the subject, and Ken Pomeroy even struggled to come to a strong conclusion one way or the other.
While there's anecdotal evidence going both ways (LIU indirectly lost a game on Friday afternoon after fouling up three points), it'd be hard to say Donyell Marshall and his staff used the wrong strategy on Saturday. In fact, one could argue that since CCSU was the better team, and that Maine is not exactly a great three-point shooting team, that it made more sense to play straight up there. I disagree, but I can't really hammer Marshall here. And I'll give him credit; he stuck to his guns and didn't change his strategy after it didn't work out twice. Process over results.
How do you spell "clutch"? I spell it K-O-H-L
Forget Tyler Kohl's 33 points for a minute...how many players have the cajones to go 6 for 6 from the free throw line in two overtime frames?
Kohl has always performed in the highest leverage moments since he arrived in New Britain, and on Saturday it felt like there would be no way he would miss a shot when it mattered most.
His overall stat line was ridiculous; 33 points on 8 of 12 shooting, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals. Oh, and he played all of overtime and late in regulation as the primary ball handler.
It's obvious TK went to work on his shooting during the off-season, and it's paying off. He's up to 41% from three (against D1 opponents) this season after shooting 29% as a junior, and is hitting 88% of his free throws. His 113.4 O-Rating is the highest of any NEC player with > 24% usage (by a fairly wide margin), and he's got to be the front-runner for NEC POY.
One thing I've noticed; Kohl seems much more comfortable from distance as "catch and shoot" guy, rather than shooting off the dribble. I'd be curious to see what the data says.
Where's the Defense?
Sure, the Blue Devils won. But the defensive effort was not exactly good on Saturday.
Maine had its best offensive output of the season, with their 1.04 ppp outpacing 1.02 ppp performance against Fordham. That marks the second game in a row that CCSU's opponent has had a season high offensive performance.
Marshall largely employed a 2-3 matchup zone defense against Maine, and I openly wondered (on Twitter) if it was the right move. As it was against Providence, the zone was often too late getting out on shooters, and was struggling mightily in controlling the boards.
However, in the second half Marshall went man-to-man and we immediately saw two back-door cuts for layups, then an Isaiah White driving runner in the paint. So perhaps Marshall knows what he's doing and I should just keep quiet.
Regardless of the type of defense that the Blue Devils have played, they've really struggled on that side of the ball. After having the worst defense in America in 2015 (Howie Dickenman's final season), Donyell Marshall incrementally improved the program defensively; they finished 324th in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2016, then 296th in 2017. No, not great. But better. This year, however, CCSU is 320th nationally.
On Saturday, Maine was able to grab 35% of their misses, and the Black Bears had a lot of open shooters on the perimeter (though they were just 9 for 32).
Jamir Coleman really struggled from the field (2 for 11), but he really stepped up on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds, and was also 6 for 6 from the free throw line.
As a team, CCSU shot 31 for 35 from the charity stripe, and is now 12th in the nation, making 77.3% of their freebies.
Tyson Batiste had 6 assists against just 1 turnover, playing a career high 34 minutes before fouling in the first overtime. He was also 4 for 5 from the field and made his lone free throw attempt. With Thai Segwai likely playing his way out of the rotation, Batiste is going to be counted on to play more minutes going forward.
Marshall suddenly has a depth issue, as Kashaun Hicks, Harrison Kay, Mike Underwood, and Chris Williams were all in what appeared to be street clothes. The loss of Hicks is the most significant, as he had become the primary wing off the bench.
Kohl drew a technical foul in the second half, and that sort of thing has to stop. I like him playing with emotion, but he's so important to this team.
Another week off before CCSU heads out west to take on Oregon State next Saturday night in their final non-conference game.
Merry Christmas to everyone reading this...I sincerely hope you and your families enjoy the holiday, and thanks for reading.