It wasn’t always pretty. It wasn’t always perfect. But it was one of the best Fairfield University Men’s basketball games of the season.
On Monday night, before the largest crowd of the season, the Stags (17-11, 9-7) defeated Iona College (15-11, 9-7) 66-64.
To say they got the win in a dramatic fashion would be somewhat of an understatement. Senior Derek Needham scored a three-pointer with 5.5 seconds left to play that ultimately gave the Stags the lead. Needham ended the game with a team-high 17 points. Watch the last minute of the game here:
“It was a play that we ran a lot during the game. I didn’t want to give the ball up,” said Needham in the post-game press conference.
Hitting big shots is something Needham has become accustomed to, especially from beyond the three-point line. In their last two games, Needham has scored 13 three-pointers. Eight were scored against Siena on Thursday and then the other five came against Iona on Monday.
“With the points, and the ball handling, Derek is just an All-Conference player. It’s just a lot of weight on him to score, ball handle, defend and lead,” said Head Coach Sydney Johnson.
Needham has had to be particularly strong in the last several games to help make up for the loss of fellow guard Desmond Wade ‘13, who is out with a knee injury.
“We miss Des. Our guys have really made a nice adjustment in terms of being without him,” said Johnson.
However, while Wade was out for the game, Justin Jenkins ’16 returned to the lineup after sitting out seven games with a wrist injury. Jenkins did not just return to the team, he came back in style.
Jenkins ended the game against Iona with 12 points and 5 assists, showing his prowess on the court. While Jenkins spent close to half of the game with four personal fouls, Johnson recognized how important Jenkins would be to this game, and kept him on the court.
“We don’t win without [Jenkins] being out there tonight. There’s no doubt about that,” said Johnson.
Jenkins himself felt that he had a better grasp on the game the second time playing Iona.
“Last time we played them, I thought I didn’t play to the best of my abilities … So coming in tonight, I was just focused and ready to play,” said Jenkins.
Defensively, the Stags had some shaky moments, being down by as many as 11 points in the run of play. However, holding an Iona team with the likes of Lamont “Momo” Jones ‘13 and Sean Armand ’14 to only 64 points was a successful defensive effort.
Jones ended the game with a game high 29 points, and at times seemed to be virtually unstoppable on the court. In fact, with ten minutes to play in the first half, Jones had as many points to his name as Fairfield had as a team, with 11.
The game was an emotional rollercoaster for Stags as well as Gaels fans alike. At times the uproarious Iona bench silenced the Fairfield crowd. However, when Needham sank the winning three, Webster Bank Arena erupted louder than it has all season.
One could never be sure exactly how the game would end up, with lead changes aplenty even within the last minute. With one play it would seem like Jones had won it for Iona, and the next second Needham had won it for Fairfield.
The emotions were evident on both sides, as Jones was visibly distraught by the result, while the Stags were ecstatic with the win.
“I’ve been saying it all year long, it’s just a display of the leadership. Derek’s been a joy to coach and he’s just been something else … Colin and Des have been fantastic. So it’s just a mark of our senior leadership, the practice habits, their commitment, their trust in me, their trust in each other,” said Johnson.
Statistically, the Stags played a solid game from the free-throw line. Until about 12 minutes left in the game, both teams were shooting 100 percent from the line. The Stags would eventually finish 11-12 and the Gaels would finish 14-15.
Some statistics did not go the Stags’ way, particularly turnovers. They turned the ball over 15 times, as compared to Iona’s eight. Watching the game, it was evident that the turnovers were hurting the Stags, as Iona scored on almost every turnover.
However, when the Stags held onto the ball and made their shots they were very successful against Iona. It was something they were able to do against Siena on Thursday, which helped them to their 74-52 win.
The Stags play again on Saturday against the University of Albany at Webster Bank Arena at 1:00 p.m. It will be Senior Day for Wade, Needham and Colin Nickerson, although the return of Wade for tip-off is questionable.
Following their game against Albany, the Stags will finish out the MAAC regular season on the road. They play Manhattan College on March 1 and then finish the season at Marist on March 3.