Well, the opening week of conference play didn't exactly go the way Donyell Marshall and Central Connecticut State hoped for. On Saturday afternoon, CCSU lost to intra-state rival Sacred Heart for the 7th consecutive time, dropping to 0-2 in NEC play.
The Pioneers held a comfortable lead throughout, pushing it to as high as 13 points midway through the second half. However, the Blue Devils were able to cut the lead to six multiple times late in the second frame, only to consistently fail to knock down big shots.
With just over 4-minutes left and SHU clinging to a 61-55 lead, Tyler Kohl did a nice job getting into the lane but missed a 5-footer. However, Joe Hugley got the offensive rebound, yet instead of kicking it back out, opted for an ill-advised reverse layup, which was ultimately blocked by Jar'el Spellman, with E.J. Anosike making a layup at the other end.
A minute later, Tyler Kohl had another chance to cut the lead to 4, missing a left-handed layup over Spellman. Then, with just under two minutes left and CCSU down 65-59, Kohl missed a contested 18-foot jumper, and Sacred Heart finished the game on an 8-2 run.
The story, yet again, was CCSU's lack of shooting; they were 4 for 26 from three, and are now 7 for 46 (15%) in two conference games.
The Return of Tyler Kohl
Heading into Saturday's matchup with Sacred Heart, the big question was; would Tyler Kohl suit up? He took an elbow to the head last week at Oregon State and missed the team's conference opener against Wagner due to concussion protocol.
The good news? He returned. The bad news? He did not have a typical Tyler Kohl game.
CCSU's star player was just 6 of 21 from the field, with 3 assists and 3 turnovers, missing multiple layups/shot at the rim. Perhaps there was a bit of rust, as I'm assuming he missed practice all week. Long term, this performance is not a concern.
Where'd the Shooting Go?
I know, we already touched on this; seven for forty-six from three-point land in NEC play.
Is the shooting slump contagious? CCSU has just four players who have made more than six three-pointers on the season. Look at monthly trend:
Heading into Thanksgiving, the Blue Devils were shooting 45.6% from three, and were one of the nation's best perimeter shooting teams. I don't think anyone expected them to stay that hot...Jamir Coleman was never going to shoot 70% from three for an entire season...but since that North Carolina A&T game in which much of the team struggled with flu-like symptoms, they've simply been unable to knock down shots.
Ian Krishnan is now 2 for 18 from three in two league games (5 for 25 overall), while Hugley 0 for 5 (3 for 12 overall). They've even struggled from the free throw line, shooting 28 of 45 (62%).
A few theories:
A lack of ball movement; they are assisting on just 44.4% of their made baskets, which is 318th nationally.
Not utilizing the post- last season, the first play of every game was a post-up for Deion Bute. This year, Bute has been utilized much less (23% last season compared to 19% in significantly fewer minutes). Plus, Tyler Kohl did a lot more damage in the post in his first season than he has this year. On Saturday, Kohl was consistently catching the ball 25-feet from the basket. He's much better in the paint as a passer and finisher.
Lack of quickness- How many guys on CCSU's roster have the ability to take a defender off the dribble? Defenders can close-out without the fear of getting beaten for a layup.
Tyson Batiste Stays Hot
Of course, it wasn't all bad on Saturday. In fact, if the Blue Devils even shot "below average", opposed to historically bad, they win this game going away.
One of the bright spots over the past month has been the emergence of point guard Tyson Batiste. The junior is never going to be a big-time scorer or play-maker; he's a crafty game manager and a leader, and both of those things have been on display lately.
Over the past four games, Batiste has 16 assists against just 4 turnovers, and is shooting 12 of 19 (63%) from the field. On Saturday, he had a few nice finishes around the rim, and had just one turnover.
In fact, turnovers have not even been close to an issue through two conference games. Against Wagner, CCSU turned it over just 11 times, and on Saturday they had just five give-aways. Batiste is a big reason why.
Jamir Coleman had a really good game on Saturday; 20 points and 9 boards, including 2 for 5 from three. I'm convinced he's shooting 100% after he spins left, and if he could just become more consistent, we're looking at an all-league caliber player.
Joe Hugley is one of my favorite players, and his ability to get to the line helped keep his team in the game. However, I'd love to see him show more of a willingness to kick the ball out from the post. He worked hard for an offensive rebound late in the second half, then put up a reverse 5-footer through a triple team rather than kicking it out to a shooter.
As a team, CCSU was just 13 for 30 (43%) at the rim, which is well below their season average of 55%. Part of that was probably the shot-blocking ability of Jare'l Spellman.
With Krishnan struggling, Marshall has turned to freshman Mike Underwood to try and get more perimeter shooting on the floor. Unfortunately, he's yet to make a shot on the season (0 for 7 from the field). He arrived in New Britain with a reputation as a knock-down shooter.
Marshall had some scathing remarks regarding Kashaun Hicks' work ethic after the Wagner game, and Hicks only got 6 minutes of playing time in this one. However, he did have a really nice chase down and block on Kinnon LaRose.
Sacred Heart scored just 1.00 PPP, which was its lowest output since losing to Seton Hall on December 19th, and shot just 6 for 23 from three. The Blue Devils did a much better job getting out on shooters, and drew a handful of charges. Defense was not the issue in this one.
I've been hard on him lately so he deserves some props; Thai Segwai had a big drive and finish through a foul early in the second half on Saturday.
The road-trip continues, as CCSU heads to Teaneck to take on Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday. The Knights lost to Robert Morris on the road, then blitzed pre-season favorite St. Francis U. by 18-points on Saturday.