Game #9-018: Central Connecticut vs. Fairfield StagsNovember 10, 2012 8:00 pm
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - Kyle Vinales drilled a three-pointer and had a few words for the Fairfield bench on the way back down the court, beating his chest and pointing toward the Central Connecticut student section.
It was three minutes into the season.
Needless to say, Vinales will be an interesting figure to watch this year in the NEC. Detroit isn't exactly a Central Connecticut State hotbed, but an unheralded Vinales
came in and averaged 17.9 points per game as a freshman, good enough to raise enough eyebrows to get him mentioned on preseason all-NEC teams.
Still, Vinales will now have to do without two mainstays in Howie Dickenman's lineup the last couple of seasons, the most prominent being all-NEC performer Kenny Horton, who went for 19.0 points per game, with fellow senior Robbie Ptacek adding 17.3.
Now the spotlight falls squarely on the fiery Vinales, and he found out how difficult that can be after his hot start, finishing with just 18 points on 8-for-23 shooting. But, much to Dickenman's delight, Central was able to hang around without a huge contribution offensively against a Fairfield team that was minutes from the NCAA Tournament and went all the way to the semifinals of the CIT last season.
The Stags threatened to pull away late in the first half and early in the second, but the Blue Devils showed some guts that they tended to lack last season. Vinales' AAU friend from Detroit, junior college transfer Matt Hunter helped lead the charge as his three-pointer with 5:42 left gave Central its first lead of the second half.
New Britain is not terribly far from West Hartford (15 minutes), but it was still slightly surprising to see Central show up with a solid student section, as opposed to the handful at the other end for Fairfield.
It's funny what familiarity with a team will bring, the Stags also lost plenty from last season, including their superstar, Rakim Sanders. Derek Needham missed the stretch drive of Fairfield's run through the MAAC Tournament and CIT, and combined with Desmond Wade would seem to be the backbone of a solid MAAC squad. But Wade didn't score and Needham looked very rusty, to the tune of seven turnovers.
As they say in England, though, these are early doors. It was good to see Fairfield is still Title-R compliant a few times over, but seeing as Lucas the Stag was about a foot shorter than last year, I'm guessing that was a graduation loss as well. Like his team, the new Lucas looked a little nervous at the beginning, not sure when to dance, not sure where to go. But by the closing minutes, Lucas seemed a little more comfortable. But by then, the game was just about over.
Just like the game before it, this one went to the final seconds, Keith Matthews' short jumper tied the game at 55 with 1:24 left and neither team could score in the rest of regulation with Needham and Vinales both missing shots for their respective teams.
As you'd expect, overtime was chaotic in the opener. Hunter and Adonis Burbage, another shooting guard Dickenman can throw out there, hit shots and the Blue Devils had a 61-57 lead. But the youngsters got a little too excited, and suddenly the favored Stags hit back-to-back three-pointers of their own to grab a 63-61 advantage of their own.
(Needham hit the first one, and the second was by 7-foot Croatian freshman Josep Mikulic, whose final line included seven #superhoop
attempts. Some old-schoolers just cringed at that. He did have eight rebounds at least).
Still, Hunter's two free throws tied it and Vinales had two chances to give Central the lead in the final seconds, but came up short on both. To make matters worse, the ball bounced all the way out to Needham who found Keith Matthews ahead of the pack. Malcolm McMillan caught up to him to foul him with 2.4 seconds left, but Matthews made the first free throw, missed the second, the Stags grabbed the rebounds, and time ran out, Fairfield surviving 64-63.
It's easy to read too much into the first game of the season, and say Central could be better than people anticipate in the NEC, and that Fairfield may be on the verge of a big step back in the MAAC, but we can take a lesson from Vinales and our buddy Lucas the Stag.
First impressions are fun, but they won't mean much by the time we get to conference play in January (Fairfield actually starts a little earlier than that). By then, Lucas should have the routines that his predecessor did down, and Vinales should have a little better feel of how tough it is to be a superstar.
And if they don't? Well, then maybe it's time to worry a little bit.
For now, at least it seems like Vinales has the right idea