NEW BRITAIN - With just over five minutes remaining in the second half of Saturdayâ€™s game against Bryant, CCSU menâ€™s basketball head coach Donyell Marshall knew his leading scorer needed a breather.
Tyler Kohl, ranked fourth in the NEC in scoring, needed a mental rest rather than a physical one. The same energy he had remained from the opening tip, but after picking up his fourth foul, Kohl was clearly frustrated. So Marshall took his leading scorer out as the Blue Devils were in the midst of a colossal comeback against the Bulldogs.
Kohl was back in the game minutes later looking like a new player. The senior showed a calm poise on multiple drives to the basket, remaining in control and drawing three fouls that led to five points from the free throw line. When the final buzzer sounded, CCSU had turned a 13-point, second-half deficit into a five-point win, with Kohl recording six of the final eight points for the Blue Devils (10-13, 4-6 Northeast Conference).
â€śFor a little while I was feeling frustrated with how the game was going,â€ť Kohl confessed after finishing with a game-high 23 points. â€śBut I tried to stay positive and the tables turned. Coach always tells me to just stay positive.â€ť
Saturdayâ€™s thrilling comeback once again highlighted the offensive potency of Kohl, and his ability to take over a game as long as his head is in that game. During the past two games, both CCSU wins, Kohl has conquered his frustrations and turned in 52 combined points. Less than two weeks before the Blue Devilsâ€™ current streak, Kohl scored 11 points over a two-game span, and was benched for the majority of the second half while the Blue Devils were trying for another second-half comeback against Robert Morris.
Marshall wouldnâ€™t reveal the reasoning behind leaving Kohl on the bench back on Jan. 21, but he has never shied away from offering the truth surrounding Kohlâ€™s game: when he shuts the noise out around him, he shines the brightest.
â€śSometimes he can get up in his head and start worrying about foul calls,â€ť Marshall said. â€śBut when heâ€™s playing the way heâ€™s capable of, heâ€™s great to have on your team.â€ť
Saturday afternoon served as a perfect example, as Marshall pulled Kohl to help him calm down, knowing he was worth more to him relaxed for five minutes of game clock than on edge for eight. For a player like Kohl, who thrives with the ball in his hand and driving to the basket, whistles and foul calls become more likely, and while Kohl doesnâ€™t always agree, it wonâ€™t change his style of play.
â€śI think I just like handling the ball,â€ť Kohl said. â€śI feel more comfortable handling and trying to get my teammates open for easy baskets.â€ť
Marshall realizes that Kohl does have a case sometimes when questioning certain calls, but regardless of the outcome, he knows Kohl is worth more to him with a level head.
â€śSometimes I think he gets some LeBron [James] calls in this league because heâ€™s bigger and stronger, and they donâ€™t always give him the calls that he deserves,â€ť Marshall said. â€śBut you have to just keep fighting through that. You canâ€™t let it take you out of the game.â€ť
There have been times when frustration has taken Kohl out of a game, but with a timely breather like on Saturday afternoon, Kohl regained his focus and led the Blue Devils to one of their most thrilling wins of the season. Even Kohl pointed to the brief benching as a turning point in the game, in what was one of Marshallâ€™s best decisions of the contest.
Kohl knows Marshall and the coaching staff need him back on the court just as much as Kohl needs the staff to help him hit the reset button.
â€śMy confidence comes from my coaches and teammates,â€ť Kohl said. â€śIf I didnâ€™t have the people around me I wouldnâ€™t be able to accomplish I lot of the things I have.â€ť