NEW BRITAIN - The Central Connecticut State menâ€™s basketball team is seeing the improvements, bit by bit.
It was on display Thursday night when the Blue Devils came back in the closing seconds to beat Fairleigh Dickinson 66-65 on Deion Buteâ€™s dunk.
More importantly, CCSU is seeing the improvement in the win column.
For the first time since the 2013-14 season, when the program went 11-19, the Blue Devils (10-10, 3-4) have won double-digit games. And with 11 games left on the schedule, CCSU has a chance for its first winning season since 2010-11, when it finished with a 19-12 record.
But to get to that point, the Blue Devils know there is still a lot left to do before the season comes to a close.
â€śWe are going to continue to get better, continue to get hungry.â€ť CCSU menâ€™s head basketball coach Donyell Marshall said. â€śObviously, we only won six games last year. Weâ€™re 10-10, 3-4 in conference right now. Our goal right now is to continue to get better and let the chips fall.â€ť
One of the goals for the Blue Devils moving forward is to find a better sense of consistency, especially after an up-and-down first half of the season. CCSU has three different losing skids of three games or more so far.
The players, however, know, as in most sports, it is about hitting their stride as team at the right time.
â€śI feel like weâ€™ve kept a level head throughout most of the season and I feel like our expectations are very high,â€ť CCSU forward Mustafa Jones said. â€śWe hold each other accountable and weâ€™re expected to do big things and continue our season. Obviously, going to the NEC Tournament and winning and going to the NCAA [Tournament]. We understand when we can peak and what we can do potentially as a team. â€ś
The Blue Devils havenâ€™t won the NEC Tournament since the 2006-07 season and for a group of seniors that won just 15 games and lost another 74, having a chance to compete for a title would be special.
â€śIâ€™m not the only senior, thereâ€™s two others Shakaris Laney and Austin Nehls,â€ť Jones said. â€śBut weâ€™ve all never been [to the tournament]. It would be a great experience for not only myself but my teammates and I feel like weâ€™re doing a great job working towards that goal.â€ť
But that also means CCSU will have to do a better job of closing out games. In the Blue Devilsâ€™ previous game against Bryant, Marshall made it be known that was something his team needed to be able to do. And although CCSU won Thursday night, closing out wasnâ€™t something the Blue Devils achieved.
â€śWe have to make free throws,â€ť Marshall said. â€śWe canâ€™t let that come back and bite us. The problem is you fix the turnovers and then you get to free throws. I think once were able to put everything together weâ€™re going to be a heck of a team.â€ť
That being said, as much as CCSU has enjoyed the win over Fairleigh Dickinson, especially the way it won, there are some issues to shore up before the team faces LIU Brooklyn next.
â€śWe have to work on taking care of the basketball,â€ť Marshall said. â€śLIU Brooklyn, theyâ€™re going to press the whole game. We also have to work on transitions. We feel that if we can get them to half court weâ€™ll be good but they want to get out and transition. We have to work on boxing out, they have some very good athletes that attack the rim.â€ť
The Blue Devils, though, donâ€™t plan on losing any of their momentum any time soon. Their expectations are too high to let them.
â€śI feel like these last two games for us were big,â€ť guard Tyler Kohl said. â€śWe were on a four-game losing streak and you can feel it when youâ€™re around a team in the locker room.
â€śYou can feel that tension, but the last two games weâ€™ve been playing together, weâ€™ve been playing hard and we just have to keep going and keep playing with that passion. If we do that then nobody can stop us.â€ť
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org