NEW BRITAIN - The CCSU men’s basketball team was lacking more than consistent play early in conference play, it was lacking bodies.
The team would regularly have just a seven-man rotation and the guys getting playing time would have to play a lot of minutes than normally required. The result of that short rotation was a 0-7 start in the NEC.
Recently, the Blue Devils have gotten Eric Bowles and Tafari Whittingham back from injury and have been giving the team minutes off the bench. The regular rotation is now up to nine players and it is no coincidence that since the rotation has expanded Central has gotten better results.
CCSU has won two of its last three games, the last of which was a home game against recent NEC powerhouse LIU Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon.
“I think guys have been more rested recently,” CCSU head coach Donyell Marshall said. “Having more guys available allows the guys on the court to work even harder because they know if they give that extra effort they will be able to get a rest and get right back on the court.”
One of the players that has been most affected by the lack of numbers has been sophomore Austin Nehls. Since conference play began, the sharpshooter has averaged just under 39 minutes per game and has seen his shooting numbers all slip because of it.
Nehls had a big hand in the Blue Devils’ win over LIU Brooklyn as he scored 20 points and made nine of his 10 free throw attempts, but he was coming off of an 0-10 shooting performance and was in a bit of a slump. He bounced back though and that could be a product of having more available players.
“Austin really hasn’t sat much this season,” Marshall said. “We got him a rest in the first half [against LIU Brooklyn] and I told him ‘this is what the bench looks like’. He only sat out for two minutes, but even when he was on the court he didn’t have much pressure on him to do so much so his legs were fresher at the end of the game.”
Nehls, like his coach, has also noticed getting some players back into the fold has made a major difference over the past couple of weeks.
“We haven’t really had a full team all season,” said Nehls, who leads the team in both points and minutes per game. “We got back a couple of players that play major minutes so having them back is big so we can all get some rest.
“I was in a bit of a funk but my teammates and coaches kept telling me to shoot so I stayed confident and with fresher legs shots started to fall.”
But getting Whittingham and Bowles has not only helped in the win column, it has also re-energized the team. Marshall’s biggest issue with his team all season has been the lack of energy, effort and team play. Against LIU Brooklyn, those things were far from a problem and actually might have been the key reasons for the win.
“I thought the energy was awesome,” Marshall said. “Tidell [Pierre] took three charges [on Saturday] which is something I have been calling for all year and although we only had five assists, I thought we played good team basketball. It was a real team effort to pick up a win over a team that good.”
CCSU’s record still sits at 4-17 overall and 2-8 in the conference on the season but the team doesn’t think it is out of contention by any means. The Blue Devils finally have enough bodies where they can finish off games rather than wearing down at the end and the proof is in their last few games.
CCSU is still tied for last in the NEC, but it is playing its best basketball of the season right now and if beating LIU Brooklyn proved anything it’s that no team in the conference is too good for the Blue Devils right now.
“We have two NEC wins and there are still eight games to play,” Marshall said. “If we hadn’t given away a couple of games earlier this season we might be hosting a game in the conference tournament. We see the standings every day and we still think the conference is wide open and we have plenty of time to go make a move.”
“We are still in it,” Nehls said. “We still have a chance to make a move in the NEC tournament. If we just keep playing and trusting that things are going to eventually turn the corner we have a chance. We are still a confident group.”
Michael Woolfson can be reached at 860-801-5203 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On twitter: Bigwoolf5