Among the many cliches used by basketball coaches is, “They’re going to beat somebody, we don’t want it to be us” when playing a struggling team. And as with all cliches, there is a modicum of truth in there.
For instance, as poorly as Central Connecticut has played and as undermanned as the Blue Devils are (without Kyle Vinales and Malcolm McMillan – who now appears to be lost for the season with a back injury), our buddies (or buddy) at KenPom put their odds of going winless in the NEC at a paltry 2.6% heading into Thursday’s game against LIU Brooklyn at Detrick Gym.
When the Blue Devils opened the second with a 23-11 run to open up a seven-point lead midway through the second half, it appeared those odds might soon be a big goose egg and the Blackbirds had a pretty good chance of being “us”. But while there are plenty of points to improve on, LIU Brooklyn showed plenty of character down the stretch, executed on both ends, and got on the bus back to New York City with a 71-66 road victory to keep CCSU winless in NEC play.
“They’re going to beat somebody,” LIU Brooklyn coach Jack Perri said. “They have a starting five that’s pretty good. The kid (Kevin) Seymour is a freshman, he’s coming along and gaining confidence. They’ll probably beat somebody sooner rather than later.”
Here are my thoughts from a lonely press row at Detrick Gym (was just me on a chilly Thursday night and CCSU struggling):
1. This could have been a tough loss for LIU Brooklyn – The Blackbirds (6-10, 2-3) led 22-10 and 26-14 in the latter portion of the first half (7:30 left), and with Matt Mobley struggling, it looked like LIU could have delivered a knockout blow then. Instead, CCSU’s offense started to get to the basket, cut it to five at the half, and continued to get some way too easy looks at the hoop in the second half for a team that entered just 329th nationally in 2-pt field goal % (and dead last in the NEC in offensive efficiency).
However, just when things looked like they may be getting away, the Blackbirds regained their focus, allowed just eight points in the final 6:23, and got some huge contributions at the offensive end from Gerrell Martin (17 pts), Landon Atterberry (17 pts), and Nura Zanna (16 pts, 11 rebs), who had his way in the smaller Blue Devils.
“That’s a good win for us in the end,” LIU Brooklyn coach Jack Perri said. “Understanding that when you go on the road in the NEC, things are going to happen and it’s not going to be easy. The thing that keeps happening in the second halves is our defense gets lackluster. They got a lot of interior layups. We got beat on penetration quite a bit. They went to strictly a zone in the second half. I thought we had plenty of good looks but we didn’t make them. Iverson Fleming and Landon Atterberry gave us great minutes. Obviously, Nura Zanna played great, too. So a lot of guys stepped up when we needed them to.”
2. CCSU’s NEC Tournament streak is in big trouble – While the Blue Devils (2-16, 0-5) probably won’t go winless (although their odds are up to 5%), it’s a struggle right now in almost every area. They rank 339th in KenPom and can’t break 300 in offensive (313th) or defensive (33rd). They rank 24th nationally in not sending opponents to the free throw line if you’re looking for some positives (LIU only attempted eight), but that’s mostly because it’s pretty easy for them to score on CCSU without it.
Matt Mobley has attempted to step in for Vinales, but with teams keying on him, it’s doubly tough and he was held to seven points on 1-8 shooting by the Blackbirds (he did have seven assists and six rebounds). Faronte Drakeford and Brandon Peel have emerged as offensive threats and freshman point guard Kevin Seymour has getting more steady (13 assists, two turnovers in his last two games), but even when you get past that, there’s the matter of the defensive end, where their size makes it easy for teams to get to the basket and they don’t turn opponents over enough to stop them from doing it.
Even so, Howie Dickenman was kicking himself over trying to give Seymour a quick rest up seven in the second half. By the time he could get a time out a minute later, the lead was one and the Blackbirds had the momentum.
“We took our primary ballhandler out, and the kid (Seymour) has been terrific all year long,” Dickenman said. “During recruitment, I told him he wasn’t going to play much and he’s playing 37, 38 minutes per game. Take him out, and the two sophomores just couldn’t handle the situation.”
CCSU has qualified for the NEC Tournament 16 straight times and most of those seasons been in the top half of the league under Dickenman (with NCAA appearances in 2000, 2002, and 2007), but – at this moment – it doesn’t look likely that streak will continue.
3. To know or not to know – We have seen coaches in the MAAC keep standings boards on their wall to keep track of where they are in the league, and to keep track of everyone else as well. Thursday’s win jumped LIU Brooklyn up into a tie for sixth in the NEC with Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson with a key game at the Barclays Center Saturday against suddenly streaking Mount St. Mary’s, all of which made this a huge win for Perri, who admitted – unlike some of his peers – he just, to keep the cliches going, takes it one game at a time.
“I have no idea where we are in the league right now,” Perri said. “We’ll see where we are in February. I’m being honest, I don’t know and I don’t care. With such a young group, I just want them to play well. I want them to care about playing hard and competing and staying together and staying positive.”