NEW BRITAIN â€“ Happy Birthday to CCSU menâ€™s basketball freshman Myles Baker.
Just one day after celebrating his birthday with his family, who was in from Chicago for the weekend, Baker dropped a career-high 24 points in a 75-70 win over Bryant, giving the steadily-improving Blue Devils a much-needed victory.
â€śHe came out and he played tough,â€ť head coach Donyell Marshall said. â€śThatâ€™s the Myles that we recruited.â€ť
Baker sank nine of his first 11 shots from the floor, including two straight 3-pointers in the second half to give CCSU a valuable cushion that proved pivotal after the Bulldogs pulled to within one in the waning minutes of the second half.
â€śIâ€™ll do anything the team needs in order to get the win,â€ť Baker said. â€śIâ€™d been struggling, but the team is more important, so today I just tried to go out there and play my best with the time I had.â€ť
Bakerâ€™s first of five threes on the day gave the Blue Devils a five-point lead early in the first half, but Adam Grant answered with a three of his own to pull the Bulldogs within two. After a media timeout, Baker drilled a deep, contested three to once again put CCSU ahead by five. The freshman continued his personal 3-point party by knocking down another with 4:30 left in the half, increasing the Blue Devilsâ€™ lead to seven.
â€śMy teammates kept looking for me,â€ť Baker said. â€śThey knew I had the hot hand, and I just stayed comfortable in taking my shots.â€ť
Bryant switched to a light press late in the first half and it paid off immediately, resulting in two straight turnovers in the backcourt, which led to back-to-back baskets in transition to pull the Bulldogs within four and force a timeout from Marshall.
Bryant finished the half strong and tied the game at 33, but consecutive jumpers by Tyler Rowe and Ian Krishnan put CCSU back in front by five with 17 minutes remaining. Once again, the Bulldogs kept it close, cutting the Blue Devilsâ€™ lead to one when Benson Lin was fouled on a baseline drive and completed the 3-point play with 12 minutes left in the second half. Bryant took the lead at the 9:45 mark of the half when Nate Stokes knocked down a three, and after Karrington Wallace tied it with a layup, Hall Elisias gave the lead right back to the Bulldogs with a two-handed slam on the ensuing possession.
Bryant wasnâ€™t going away, but neither was Bakerâ€™s 3-point stroke. Shortly after checking back into the game, Baker knocked down a pair of triples in as many possessions, his fourth and fifth 3-pointers of the afternoon, to put CCSU in front by four. On the Blue Devilsâ€™ next trip down, Baker muscled his way inside and knocked down a fadeaway jumper to push the lead to six.
â€śWe just slowly kept the lead and then made our free throws,â€ť Baker said. â€śIt was a good team win.â€ť
The Bulldogs absorbed Bakerâ€™s run and again kept fighting back, cutting the deficit to two before Krishnan drilled a 3-pointer to put the Blue Devils ahead by five with less than four minutes left. Bryant pulled to within one with 2:15 to go, but a free throw from Steph Ayangma and two straight defensive stands by CCSU gave the Blue Devils a 72-70 lead with 32 seconds to go. Baker missed what would have been an electric driving dunk to seal the game, but on the other end, CCSU came up with another big stop to regain possession with 20 seconds left, and two clutch free throws from Krishnan sealed the victory and avenged a narrow four-point loss to the same Bulldogs a week ago.
â€śThis is a team that felt should have won last week, but we didnâ€™t,â€ť Marshall said. â€śWe came in confident knowing we could win.â€ť