Forget about the records. Forget about the stats. Forget about all the predictions, reviews, and logic.
The storied rivalry between the two Northeastern Catholic schools is back on the Fairfield campus, where the two teams have had memorable battles dating back to the 1970s, including when the Stags defeated the Crusaders 123-103 in 1977 in one of the program’s best games.
Let’s take a look back. In 2006, the Cooley era started and the Holy Cross rivalry returned. The Stags traveled up to the Hart Center, where Fairfield found themselves in a full out battle. The high flying Keith Simmons and talented point guard Torey Thomas led the way for Holy Cross. In the final seconds, Fairfield’s Danny Oglesby was fouled and made one of two ft’s to send the game into overtime. A late foul would send Torey Thomas to the line, and he sent the Crusaders to a two point win and a heartbreaking loss for the Stags. In 2007, the Crusaders visited Fairfield with the same result. This time it wasn’t as close. Led by Colin Cunningham, with 17 points, the Holy Cross defeated the Stags 67-54. The real story of the game was the elbow to Jon Han’s face that he received in the second half. Fairfield and Han got their payback in 2008, picking up a convincing win up in Worcester, Mass. Anthony Johnson led the way with 20 points, Jon Han scored 16 with 11 assists, giving Cooley is first win against the Crusaders, 78-66.
So far this season, the two teams have been going in different directions. Fairfield is 6-2 overall, while Holy Cross is struggling at 2-7, including an 0-6 start. The Crusaders are always known for their stingy defense and strong half court play, but that has taken a step back this year. Former Head Coach Ralph Willard departed for Louisville to serve under Rick Pitino, after 10 years at Holy Cross. The head coaching duties were handed off to Sean Kearney from Notre Dame.
Kearney served as the Associate Coach under Mike Brey for nine years before accepting the Holy Cross job. In the preseason polls, Holy Cross was predicted to win the Patriot League. Instead, they have lost seven on their first nine games, including the 84-63 beating they took last Saturday against UMASS.
Fairfield has been a bit more successful. Although they are depleted in certain areas, the strong play of freshman Derek Needham and Senior Anthony Johnson is carrying the Stags early on. Returning from a season ending condition last year, Johnson is putting the fire and energy into this team. Along with his rebounding and interior defense, Johnson is finding an offensive touch, averaging over 11 points per game. The Stags have two other scorers averaging double figures. One of those being Needham. The freshman point guard is averaging a shade under 17 points a game and is the focal point of this offense.
The Crusaders have some talent of their own. Don’t be fooled by the record. This will be a tough team to play. Headed by R.J Evans, the former Rookie of the Year in the Patriot League, and leading scorer this season. Averaging almost 13 points and 5 rebounds per game, he is a big threat for Holy Cross. He’s a 6-3 guard who can get to the basket quickly and score in a variety of different ways. Evans is paired off in the back court with tri-captain junior Andrew Beinert. From Long Island, the Chaminade High School product has great composure and deadly outside jumper. He will most likely be matched up with Derek Needham in what will surely be a good battle.
The fourth round of the Holy Cross-Fairfield Rivalry under Ed Cooley starts tonight at 7 p.m. in Alumni Hall. Holy Cross leads the series 21-16, however, the Stags are 6-4 against them at Alumni Hall.