CLEVELAND - The Central Connecticut men’s basketball team almost let one slip away.
But Austin Nehls has other plans.
The junior guard scored seven of his 19 points in the final two minutes and 14 in the second half to help the Blue Devils hold off Cleveland State for a 74-73 win Friday night.
It is the third straight win for CCSU (3-3), which started the season 0-3.
Sophomore Joe Hugley added 14 points for the Blue Devils, whiles teammates Mustafa Jones and Tyler Kohl also finished in double-figures with 13 and 10 points respectively.
CCSU held a 14-point halftime lead, but the Vikings used a 13-0 run and made seven 3-pointers to cut the Blue Devils’ lead to 59-57 with nine minutes remaining.
A 3-pointer by senior Shakaris Laney and a bucket by Nehls slowed down Cleveland State’s momentum momentarily before the Stefan Kenic hit a 3-pointer of his own to give the Vikings a 69-67 lead with 2:36 left to play.
Nehls once again had the answer, hitting a 3-pointer and made four free throws and CCSU led 74-71 with just 32 seconds remaining.
Tyree Appleby had a chance to tie the game after being fouled on a layup, but missed the ensuing free throw that pulled the Vikings to 74-73. Appleby forced a turnover on the next possession but Kenic missed a 3 at the buzzer.
Dontel Highsmith scored 17 points to lead Cleveland State (1-4). Bobby Word added 15 points for the Vikings, while Kenic finished with 11.
The Blue Devils had scored seven straight points late in the first half with Nehls hitting a 3-pointer with 1:50 to go to give CCSU a 43-23 lead. Cleveland State recovered, however, scoring the final six points of the period to make it 43-29 at the break.
The Blue Devils next game will be at home on Nov. 3 against North Carolina A&T. It will also be head coach Donyell Marshall’s return to the bench after a six-game absence.