Three Thoughts: Central Connecticut 65, UMBC 53

It ain’t easy being winless, and it’s even less so when your leading scorer is already done for the season.

UMBC coach Aki Thomas spent most of Wednesday night’s 65-53 loss to Central Connecticut cringing at crucial mistakes and stomping his foot after missed opportunities. But even though his Retrievers are one of four winless teams in Division I (of 351), Thomas was much more positive in the postgame, acknowledging that the America East is a one-bid conference anyway, so they just need to be producing in a few weeks when conference play begins. And UMBC was in the game for about 35 of the 40 minutes on the road.

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“We had two really good days of practice,” Thomas said. “I thought our approach to the game was great, very business-like. Despite the adversity and not having a win yet, guys were locked in and focused. There are just some things we really have to work through and figure out. That’s my job, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Meanwhile, it’s two straight for CCSU after Kyle Vinales was officially dismissed, even if they had only nine players dressed and didn’t get much out of its bench (except for an insane block by 6-foot Greg Andrade). Matt Mobley has a little Vinales in him, able to shoot with range and volume (he joked after the game about a “heat check” miss from about 26 feet after drilling two in a row on the previous two possessions), and Brandon Peel has been very consistent from 12-15 feet and now has 30 rebounds in his last two games, meaning – while the competition will not set the SOS meters on fire – the Blue Devils are starting to do look like a team that should be competitive in the NEC.

“We had key turnovers, we had missed layups, we had missed free throws,” Thomas said. “Those are the things I look at and say, ‘You know what?’ If we can control those a little bit better, it’s a different game. If we don’t turn it over 14 times, we feel better about getting a couple more possessions in the game. It came down to not having enough possessions to win the game.”

Here are my thoughts from the CCSU home opener at Detrick Gym:

1. UMBC needs someone to step up on offense – The Retrievers (who have some very nice uniforms, by the way) came into New Britain without a player averaging in double figures, but Richmond graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow’s 17-point effort means he crossed that threshold (up at 10.6). Will Darley’s came in averaging 4.3 points per game, but his career-high 11 helped the cause, but they are still shooting 26% from three and averaging just 53.1 points per game (348th in D-1 coming in both in points and adjusted offense). Point guard Jourdan Grant had five assists, but when they needed plays late, it wasn’t to be.

“My job is to find some more offense,” Thomas said. “53 points per game is not going to cut it. We need to get up in the 60s, and it’s my job to figure it out.”

2. Ewing theory with Vinales? –  It’s very early, and beating Hartford and UMBC won’t exactly send shockwaves through the NEC, but CCSU has looked looser, especially someone like Peel, who was shooting at will from all kinds of different spots on the floor. Point guard Kevin Seymour is not flashy, but didn’t make many mistakes either, and Malcolm McMillan should return soon to help.

“Team chemistry is great right now,” Peel said. “The first couple of games, it wasn’t very good, but now it’s better. We got a couple of wins. Our teammates are believing in each other right now, and we just have to keep it going.

3. Life is tough early in season for low-majors – Jasper Joe Arnone had to wait until Dec. 10 to open his 53rd season as the Detrick Gym PA announcer, which tells you what kind of obstacles CCSU has faced, and they still have a game with UConn looming (as well as Hofstra, by the way). UMBC played at George Washington, got on a plane to Iowa for a guarantee game, then barely hit the ground before making the six-hour bus ride up to New Britain for Wednesday’s game. Oh, and finals start on Monday, too. The Retrievers do have good chances to pick up their first win in their next two games: hosting Longwood and then playing at Kennesaw St.

“It’s kind of funny, the staff members asked me which is the way we’re supposed to go up to the gym before the game,” CCSU coach Howie Dickenman said. “I told them, “Take a left. Then take another left. Then take another left. One more left and you’ve got it.’ “

Bonus. UMBC at least has their soccer team to distract people – In case, you hadn’t noticed, the UMBC men’s soccer team has made a remarkable run all the way to the College Cup (soccer’s equivalent of the Final Four), where it will take on Virginia on Friday.

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