The Central Connecticut State Blue Devils haven’t won their season opener since the 2010-11 season. They also haven’t had a new coach on the sideline in two decades. Both those things changed on Friday when they held on against their cross-county rivals, the Hartford Hawks, 75-60.
It was a rematch of their opening game last season — 92-83 Hawks win in double overtime.
It was the first career game and win for new head coach and former NBA star Donyell Marshall. Marshall, who was previously an assistant coach at Buffalo, Rider, and George Washington, took the reigns from longtime head coach Howie Dickenman, who retired following last season. Dickenman was an assistant at UConn during Marshall’s college days in Storrs.
The game started like any other CCSU game against Hartford, with the teams going shot-for-shot. The score stayed close until Tafari Whittingham made a layup, giving the Blue Devils a 10-point lead at 23-13.
“Our game plan was to play hard but also play smart,” Marshall said after the game.
And smart they played.
They were able to dismantle the Hartford offense, leaving the Hawks disorganized and frustrated. Despite that, Hartford was able to hang around much of the night. Momentum was firmly on the Blue Devils’ side, however, when sophomore Austin Nehls converted on a four-point play midway through the second half to push the lead to eight.
“Austin hit that four point play, that was huge, that turned the game back around,” Marshall said.
The Hawks would only be able to cut their deficit to four in the second half, but ultimately, Central pulled away with the 15-point win.
“I don’t like it in practice when the team is up and they let the other team back, but it helped today,” Marshall said. “They looked at the way we played against [exhibition game opponent] Alvernia, looked that we let a team come back, but it actually helped us today. We were able to calm ourselves down and push it back up.”
Central Connecticut is on the road for their next two games against Seton Hall and Binghamton, while Hartford will host Niagara Tuesday morning as part of ESPN’s annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.