Fairfield returned to action on Tuesday night at Alumni Hall after a nine day layoff for the holidays against St. Francis (NY) and despite a slow start came away with a 65-58 victory.
The win improved head coach Ed Cooley’s squad to 9-3, the best start for a Fairfield team in the last 32 years, dating back to the days of all-time great Joe DeSantis. The Terrriers dropped to 3-8 and were led by 16 points from Akeem Bennett.
It was a new phenom point guard leading the way for the Stags in DeSantis’ old home on Tuesday, with freshman Derek Needham scoring 12 points to go along with six assists. Junior forward Yorel Hawkins led the way for Fairfield with 14 points and nine rebounds. Two other Stags finished in double figures, senior Anthony Johnson (13 points and six rebounds) and Ryan Olander (10 points and six rebounds).
The Stags shot just 36 percent from the floor in the game. It was a slow start, shooting just 22 percent in the first half, that resulted in that percentage. They then over 50 percent in the second half as they came back for the win. Fairfield held St. Francis to just 41 percent shooting for the game.
The win finished out Fairfield’s series at Alumni Hall. The Stags won all three games at the on campus arena, defeating Holy Cross, Fordham and now the Terriers, the first time the Stags have swept the series since games returned to the campus in 2006.
Fairfield came off of a 89-84 road loss prior to the Christmas break to Rhode Island, a game that Cooley called the best the team has played all year, despite failing to win. Despite the strong performance the Stags could not build off of it immediatly.
The Stags trailed at the half, but scored the first nine points of the second half and after briefly allowing the Terriers to retake the lead, it was all Fairfield as the Stags led by as much as 14 and never let the lead drop below six points again.
Hawkins credited Cooley’s halftime talk to leading the Stags to victory.
“He came in and he was not happy and I don’t blame him,” Hawkins said to Bob Heussler on the Fairfield Stags Radio Network following the game. “We scored what, 23 points, in the first half. That’s not Stags basketball. Whatever he said got us going.”
Freshman Colin Nickerson was the lone bright spot of the first half for Fairfield, who entered the break down by six points. Nickerson scored all seven of his career-high points in the first 20 minutes.
“It’s MAAC time now,” Hawkins said. “The year is just starting. We have been playing a lot of non-conference games, but this is where it all begin.”
The Stags travel to Western New York to take on the two MAAC schools in Buffalo, Canisius and Niagara, this weekend.