As if a roller coaster season wasn't enough, the Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils had a roller coaster game on Saturday, eventually earning a hard fought win over Bryant on Saturday.
With about 5 1/2 minutes remaining, CCSU was essentially dead in the water. You don't believe me? Check out this win expectancy chart, courtesy of Bart Torvik:
The Blue Devils had scored just 20 points in the second half up until that point (after scoring 26 in the first half) and Tyler Kohl was on the bench with four fouls.
Seriously though, the Blue Devils had ~95% chance of falling to 3-7 in the NEC, and while they would have been just one game behind 8th place LIU-Brooklyn, the Blackbirds just destroyed CCSU in New Britain one week earlier. Yeah, things weren't looking good. So what happened?
The Final 5 1/2 Minutes
Ian Krishnan got the comeback started with this three-pointer, his 2nd of the half, and about 45 seconds later a Jamir Coleman jumper cut the deficit to just six.
Tyler Kohl re-entered the game with 4:05 left, but the Blue Devils remained stagnant offensively, going two minutes between field goals. During that time, two highly questionable Jamir Coleman field goal attempts earned him a spot on the bench with 2:45 left, and Donyell Marshall largely finished this game with a unique lineup of Tyson Batiste, Kohl, Krishnan, and Karrington Wallace.
Fortunately for CCSU, Bryant lost any ability to score points. Over the final 8:19 of the game, the Bulldogs scored just three points, They were 0 for 12 from the field until Joe Kasperzyk's layup with 9 seconds left, and SaBastian Townes was just 1 for 4 from the free throw line. A week after hitting the game-winner against the Blue Devils, Townes had a myriad opportunities to tie the game late, yet came up empty.
Back to Central. Trailing 57-51 with two minutes left, after the aforementioned two-minute drought, freshman Mike Underwood went and did this.
I do not believe he called bank there, and quite honestly it wasn't pretty; his feet weren't even close to set, and the shot sailed left. But hey, it went in, and ultimately that's all that matters.
And that's when Tyler Kohl took over. Over the final 1:36, Kohl went on a personal 8-0 run, which included 6 for 8 from the free throw line, and also grabbed two big rebounds.
The Final Six Seconds
Of course, given how this season has gone so far this year, things weren't going to be easy. With a chance to ice the game at the free throw line with six seconds left, Kohl missed his first free throw attempt (he made the second), giving Central a 62-59 lead. The fact that Kohl missed the free throw was a shock, as he's consistently knocked down big free throws in high leverage moments during his time at CCSU.
So with Bryant inbounding the ball down 3 with six seconds left, the big question was: would Donyell Marshall foul up three? At Maine, he did not foul and the Black Bears made not one, but two game-tying three-pointers (they missed a third). At Fairleigh Dickinson, he also did not foul, though his strategy wasn't clear given the play that was run.
On Saturday, Marshall again opted to play it "straight up", and it worked out; Byron Hawkins' deep three-point attempt came up significantly short (it didn't draw iron), and went out of bounds with 0.3 seconds left. Two Kashaun Hicks free throws iced the game.
My thoughts on the foul or don't foul strategy? I'm pro-foul, assuming you do it late enough (say, 8 seconds or under), though there really isn't proof that one strategy works more than the other. If done right, the player is fouled on the floor, he intentionally misses the second attempt, you get the rebound and the game is over. However, there are many things that can go wrong; fouling a guy in the act of shooting, fouling too early, not securing the defensive rebound, etc. So I can understand the anti-foul strategy. And also; I'll give Donyell Marshall credit for sticking to his guns. Even if your strategy doesn't work, that doesn't mean it was a bad decision. Process over results.
Hitting the Boards
In the first half, CCSU allowed eight Bryant offensive rebounds (42%), with the Bulldogs consistently getting 2nd chance opportunities.
In the second half? Bryant grabbed just three of their misses (13%). What changed? Well for one, in the first half there were quite a few long rebounds, which amounts to a fair amount of luck in my opinion. But also, I thought that Central did a much better job of crashing the defensive boards, specifically the guards. Kohl grabbed 7 defensive boards in the 2nd half alone, while Batiste had 4 and Krishnan had 3. That was huge.
Bryant Goes Cold
Lest anyone think that this was a sterling performance by CCSU; it was not.
The Blue Devils scored just 0.93 PPP on the league's worst defense, with an eFG% of just 42% (its lowest output since the Sacred Heart loss back on 1/5).
Central won this game because Bryant could not buy a three-pointer; the Bulldogs were just 8 for 31 from three (26%), with Byron Hawkins going just 3 for 11 and Townes missing all four of his attempts.
Ian Krishnan was 3 for 8 from three (and also hit a jumper with a foot on the line). He's now shooting 34% from three on the year, and 41% over the past four games. Plus, he has the lowest turnover rate in the league (7%). He's faded from the ROY race, but I'd be surprised if he wasn't on the all-Rookie team.
Deion Bute picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the game, and his foul issues have been a consistent problem since he arrived in New Britain. In the second half the Blue Devils made a concerted effort to get the ball to him in the post, but it wasn't effective; After getting an offensive rebound and layup to begin the half, he was 0 for 2 with three turnovers over the next 4 minutes, and had little involvement in the offense for the rest of the game.
Jamir Coleman struggled offensively (4 for 13 from the field), but continued to step up on the boards. He's averaging 10 rpg over the past two, and seems to be more aggressive on that end of the floor.
Karrington Wallace has quite a bit of potential, but in ten conference games he's just 6 for 15 from the floor, and has yet to attempt a free throw. He did come up with some big rebounds on Saturday, however.
On Thursday, the gauntlet begins. The Blue Devils head out on the dreaded western Pennsylvania road trip, beginning with St. Francis University on Thursday, then Robert Morris on Saturday.