Three Thoughts: Central Conn. 53, Wagner 50 (Plus Story Behind Brandon Peel’s Winner)

It was inevitable that Howie Dickenman would bring up Tate George and Scott Burrell after Faronte Drakeford and Brandon Peel pulled off the play of the NEC season Saturday night with a play eerily reminiscent of UConn’s winner in the 1990 Sweet 16 against Clemson to lead CCSU to a 53-50 win over Wagner at Detrick Gym.

Heck, even the time on the clock was the same (1.0 seconds), although Drakeford left Peel with a little more work to do than George had, as Peel turned and hit only his second career three-pointer from a good 25 feet out after Drakeford fired the ball down the court. Dickenman, of course, was an assistant under Jim Calhoun on that UConn squad where he would stay until taking over at CCSU in 1996.


The entire Brandon Peel winner for CCSU. Faronte Drakeford on the pass. @NECSports

A video posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

//“We call that play Home Run and we practiced it a lot,” Dickenman said. “But the ironic part is that we probably haven’t practiced it in at least three weeks, probably because we thought we’d never use it. But Faronte was on the money, Brandon turned and shot. Reminded me a little of Tate George in 1990.” At that point, I asked Peel – who later said he had never hit a buzzer-beater before at any level –  if he had ever heard of Tate George and just got a sheepish shake of the head in the negative. You can forgive Peel a little, a) he’s from Maryland and not Connecticut, and b) he wasn’t born until four years after it happened. Peel’s shot probably won’t live 25 years, but in what has been a brutal season for the Blue Devils, who had lost 11 straight going into Saturday and were 0-7 in the NEC (and 2-18 overall), maybe it was about time for something to go their way. Peel and Drakeford have started every game for CCSU this season, and Peel was having a very good night before the shot, finishing with 17 points and 13 rebounds, his fifth double-double of the season. “The last shot felt good coming off, but I thought they might call a foul,” Peel said. “The guy hit my wrist, so when it went in, all I could do was say ‘Wow’ and then my teammates tackled me (Peel ended up with a bloody knee from the celebration).” It was an extremely tough loss for Wagner, who had a brutal second half offensively, hitting just two field goals in more than 16 minutes before it appeared Marcus Burton (game-high 19 points, but on 19 shots) have gotten them out of jail with a pretty outrageous 28-footer off a scramble that tied the game at 50 with what looked like 0.1 seconds left. But after a replay, the officials reset the clock to 1.0 seconds and the rest is currently on SportsCenter (ironically, New Britain and Bristol are only about 10 miles apart).

Even Wagner coach Bashir Mason, who we know was no stranger to amazing buzzer-beaters when he played, knew how special Peel’s game-winner was.

“A shot like that goes in, you just have to tip your hat and smile and try to prepare your team for the next game.” Mason said.

And so I’ll smile and give you three quick other thoughts from a wild night at Detrick:

1. Wagner had a second half for the ages, in a bad way – The Seahawks (6-13, 4-4) were actually over 1 point per possession in the first half, although the game was played at a  slow pace. And then the bottom fell out. JoJo Cooper’s runner gave Wagner a 40-33 lead with 16:12 to go and they didn’t score again until Burton drove and scored with 7:26 remaining. Greg Senat (who finished with 8 points and 15 rebounds) got a putback with 6:13 left to make it 44-37 and Wagner wouldn’t hit another field goal until Burton’s desperation three to tie the game. In all, it was 0.55 points per possession. Although their quick pace made it look a little better than it was in conference play, Wagner was third in eFG% and second in the NEC in 3-point shooting (36.6%) entering Saturday. And they just couldn’t solve CCSU’s zone in the second half.

“I thought we got good looks, looks we’ve been making recently,” Mason said. “We’re the highest scoring team in the league, at least we were, they just didn’t go down today. I thought our guys battled, I thought our defense was there, I thought our rebounding was there (Wagner finished with 20 offensive rebounds, 43.5%), too.”

2. Central Connecticut still believes  – They’ve been written off as far as the NEC Tournament is concerned by almost everyone, probably including me. The Blue Devils (3-18, 1-7), who have made 14 straight NEC postseasons, still stand two games behind LIU Brooklyn and Sacred Heart, both of whom they’ve lost to, for eighth, but there might still be room for improvement, especially if they can get Matt Mobley (1-6 from three Saturday, but hit a couple of big shots down the stretch) out of a fairly prolonged shooting slump, you never know. The Blue Devils are at LIU Brooklyn and Wagner next weekend, and they’ll likely have to get at least one of those.

“I’m so proud of the players how hard they played,” Dickenman said. “We deserved to win that basketball game even before that shot. Taking nothing away from Wagner, but our defense was the best it was this year.”

3. You never know – My original plan was to attend two Ivy League games Saturday, but the Brown-Yale game ran late and the weather didn’t look as bad as originally forecast, so I made the trip up to New Britain from New Haven for a “meaningless” NEC regular season game. And then that ending. Which is why we love college basketball, don’t we? Are you not entertained?

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