NEW BRITAIN - After just six wins in the first season under head coach Donyell Marshall, the CCSU men’s basketball team came into the year with anticipation that a better season may be in store and so far the Blue Devils are ahead of schedule.
Eight games into the season they sit at 5-3, in midst of a five-game win streak after a 68-62 win over Brown on Saturday.
Having a plethora of scoring options has led to improvement on the offensive end of the floor and had a crucial role in the impressive start to the 2017-2018 campaign.
“Austin [Nehls] can score. Joe [Hugley] can score. Mustafa [Jones] can score. Deion [Bute] can score,” CCSU head coach Marshall said. “That’s the difference. We have a lot of guys on this team that can score.”
Entering the season, CCSU returned two of its top three leading scorers, Nehls and Jones. With just the two of them coming back as focal points of the Blue Devils offense, offensive production was going to need to be replaced and it has with the three junior college transfer players - Tyler Kohl, Bute and Hugley- to go with Nehls and Jones.
“I think [junior college] helped prepare us for this,” Kohl said. “[Junior college] is obviously a different level. Only the strong survive in [junior college]. It helped us coming into Division I and it gave the team an edge. Last year the guys were obviously talented players but I feel like they lacked that edge and me, Joe and Deion, we come in and give a good edge and play hard and it shows out in the games.”
With 13.8 points per game, Nehls is second on the team in scoring while Jones is averaging 11.1 points per game.
As a team, five players are averaging over nine points per game while four scorers are in double digits, leading-scorer Kohl (14.1 ppg), Nehls, Jones and Bute (10.3 ppg).
Last season, just three players were scoring in double digits and the fourth player Tidell Pierre averaged 8.1 points per game.
On this year’s Blue Devils team, the sixth man, Hugley, is averaging 9.5 points per game off the bench.
With all five of the scoring options for CCSU, the ability to spread the ball around on the offensive end of the floor has been on display and with Kohl running the point the team is finding a good rhythm as he has an all-around game with 8.3 rebounds per game and 4.6 assists per game.
The 8.6 point increase in per game average for CCSU is a big jump.
“We have a lot more depth,” Nehls said. “It’s been a lot easier since the defense isn’t always focused on me. When they’re focusing on Tyler or Joe or somebody else, I’m getting open shots and that’s been helping me.”
Currently, CCSU has averaged 73.4 points per game on the offensive end of the floor during the win streak.
Earlier in the season on the three-game losing streak, the Blue Devils averaged 68.6 points per game.
With the transfer players seeing success it shows that the Blue Devils have quickly developed a strong rapport together.
“Over the last few games our chemistry level is going up,” Kohl said. “We’re trusting each other more, swinging the ball and just making the right play instead of trying to make the play for yourself.”
Still early in the season CCSU will put its winning streak on the line in Wednesday’s game at DePaul, a Big East program. The Blue Demons are 3-4 on their season.
With the offensive performance thus far, there’s reason for excitement surrounding the Blue Devils and the direction the program is headed.
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan