This was my seventh NEC Tournament covering CCSU. This was the third time Central has been beaten in the final stages of a game. But of all the losses, postseason or regular season, I've ever seen the Blue Devils take, this was the worst.

Marques Alston's shot in 2005 was brutal from Central's perspective, but let's face it, CCSU gave that game away. It never should have come down to a last shot, so in that sense Central didn't deserve the win.

That phrase is why, to me, this was the toughest loss for Central in the years I've been covering them. After all, Central didn't do anything to lose this one.

That isn't in any way meant to say LIU didn't deserve it. The Blackbirds might be the most complete team I can remember in this league, at least in a long time. They can do everything and play you any way you want.

But Central did everything it was supposed to do. It controlled the pace, stayed even on the boards, and played well defensively. The Devils were patient on offense (too patient at times, but never rushed). Every statistical measure Howie Dickenman laid out before the game was hit by his team. And since I have occasionally been critical of his substitution patterns this year, I have to say he did a masterful job of managing the depth he had Sunday, keeping people fresh and working around foul trouble. It was because of that subbing system that Central avoided the second-half troubles it had against LIU earlier in the year because the Devils had more energy and more players to work with.

So with the defense working well on all fronts and Central offense doing enough to get by, the numbers were all reached. That's why this loss ranks the highest in my opinion. The Devils played as well as they possibly could and still came up short. Unlike Alston's shot, Central deserved better.

But, so did LIU. The Blackbirds made enough free throws, got to some loose balls late, and played sound defense themselves. And Jason Brickman made big threes, and a host of other players stepped up for the Blackbirds, who just have so many answers it's scary.

In the end, it was a shame someone had to lose one of the better games I've ever covered. No one deserved to lose it, but LIU deserved to win it. Jim Ferry has done a great job getting that team to buy into the team concept and also works his rotation beautifully. Congrats to him and his team. I'm incredibly impressed by it.

There was a lot to be impressed by from Central as well. Before we break that down, a couple of quick shout outs. We'll have LOTS more in the next few days, but I wanted to get these in before I forget. Thanks to Tom Pincince, Tommy Meade and the rest of the staff for the logistical and research help throughout the season. Same goes to Bruce Biel and Marc Robbins, who are always fun travel partners and manage to guide a writer through radio interviews. I think today might have been my best yet, and that had a lot more to do with Marc than me.
Thanks also to the players and coaches who were so often generous with their time and insight so I could try and relay it all to you throughout the year.

It's odd to say the team's most impressive performance of the year came in a conference loss, but I think in a lot of ways this was. Who was particularly impressive? I thought you'd never ask.

For the final time this year, let's go man-to-man.

Joe Efese: If he could only stop breaking his own momentum with all the fouls, he could really develop into something. I think that will come. Central could have used him more today.

Ken Horton: Speaking of working on staying out of foul trouble, we go to the Player of the Year, who couldn't do much in the postseason because he spent too much of it on the bench. He cleans that up and gets a bit more physical and he has the chance to have one of the great years in NEC history next season.

Shemik Thompson: Imposed his will on the game, slowing the tempo and directing Central's offense against the LIU zone. Read my sidebar today to see what the other players think of him, and check out his career totals. On top of it all, realize what a great kid this is off the floor. He's heading off to be either in international business or some kind of law. And to think, he got his scholarship because Howie Dickenman was in a bad mood. That was a happy accident. I truly hope Thompson doesn't have his legacy become being the third four-year player under Dickenman to miss the tournament all four years. His numbers and his character deserve better.

De'Angelo Speech: Very strong defensive effort, another key part of the reason Central avoided a track meet. But he got into foul trouble. Interesting to see what his exact role becomes next year.

Robby Ptacek: Made 4 of his last 5 shots, including three huge threes, showing his toughness after a 2-for-12 start. He's going to have to be more consistent next year as his role increases.

Vince Rosario: Created some mayhem, got a steal and a rebound during his time. If he's going to see the floor next year, he must get more involved in other aspects besides shooting.

Devan Bailey: Helped out defensively and made a jumper in the second half. His development next year is probably the single most important step in Central's path to an NEC title.

Chris Baskerville: Battled against the big boys, and could take that into next year.

Terrell Allen: Wow, is this a one-time thing? Is it something that will only frustrate the Devils' fans next year because they know it's in there, much like Joe Efese's sophomore season? We'll find out. But for today, Blue Devil Nation should rejoice in the remarkable effort they got from a freshman who stepped up and played the game of his life when it was needed most.

No comments:

Post a Comment