The Stags kicked off Super Bowl Sunday with a matchup against the Monmouth Hawks. The Hawks have been struggling as of late as they lost three of their last four games, their last win being against the Stags a week ago on Jan. 25. The Stags, on the other hand, came off a huge win against the heavily-favored Iona team (11-9, 8-3 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), where they played their best offense all season, winning 77-66.

The game started off slow as both teams struggled to get the ball down the net. The first two minutes of the game were scoreless. Once a few shots started falling for the Stags, they started to really take off. The Stags did a great job of passing the ball and being patient with their possessions. Sophomore forward Casey Smith started heating up by knocking down shots with contested jumpers and a soft touch around the rim. Smith had scored eight points, the same amount of points that the opposing Monmouth team had, with 7:22 left in the first half. The Stags were doing a great job of contesting shots and playing aggressive defense. There was a late run by the Hawks, though, as they made a few shots on consecutive possessions to cut into the Stags lead. However, Fairfield continued to cover the ball and force turnovers; the Hawks finished the half with 19 of them. The Stags finished the half hot as Samantha Cooper ‘17 knocked down consecutive three-pointers off assists from Felicia DaCruz ‘15. The Stags led at halftime 26-17.

The Stags had played well, as they were able to score through good ball movement. They also defended the ball well against a team that loves to score and averages 64 points per game. The Hawks struggled to knock down shots as they finished the half eight out of 30 from the field and one out of 11 from beyond the arc. Smith finished the half with eight points and three blocks; Samantha Cooper contributed with six rebounds and those three-pointers.

“We really picked it up on defense; we had a lot of different game plans. We were pressing, playing man-to-man, playing zone, switching, everything. We all talked together and all took pride in not letting them beat us and that helps in the end,” Cooper said.

As the second half started, the Stags came out aggressive. They forced the Hawks to commit a foul on six consecutive possessions. They were able to reach the foul line, but could only make one of the six attempted free throws. The Stags were having a tough time getting the ball to drop, as they continued to miss shots. Monmouth took advantage and closed the gap down to three. Through the first eight minutes of the half, Monmouth scored 10, while Fairfield only scored four. As the Stags continued to struggle, the Hawks had the momentum and continued to knock down shots. Eventually, the Hawks made their way back to take the lead 31-30 with 11:35 left in the game. Both teams continued to fight to make shots and stop their opponent from scoring. With just two minutes remaining, the score was within three. With time running low, both teams turned up the defensive intensity. After battling heavy defense, Smith was able to knock down the clutch shot to tie the game.

After forcing a crucial turnover, the Stags had the opportunity to take the lead. Smith had the shot for the win, where there may have been contact from the opposing team; but, no foul was called and the shot was missed, so the game went into overtime.

The next few minutes were all Fairfield, as they got to the free throw line and got easy points from the line. The Stags continued to move the ball and look for open shots. Their defense was strong as they limited Monmouth’s shot opportunities. Any shot that was taken by the Hawks was heavily contested. The Stags increased their lead to four, and continued to play good defense. With just two seconds left, Sarah Olson of the Hawks knocked down a three-pointer to make it a two-point game. Despite the effort by Monmouth, the Stags were able to close out the game and come out with the win. The final score was 54-52 and with this win, Head Coach Joe Frager received his 150th win of his coaching career.

Smith led the Stags with 14 points and a career-high four blocks. Junior Kristin Schatzlein added 12 points with two three-pointers, and shooting four for four from the free throw line. Cooper also contributed with 14 rebounds and eight points.

Cooper said of her big rebounding night, “Coach gets on me for rebounding, especially if my shots are not falling. I just really want the ball, so if I miss then I go after and try to get it.”

Frager expressed his excitement after a tough win for the Stags: “It was a really big win for us because we just had a really huge win over Iona just the other day and prior to that we had played Monmouth and got beaten by a pretty significant score. So to turn around in within a week or so and get the win was huge for us. When you get a big win against a very talented team like Iona, you need to make that win stick and by winning this game we’re able to make that game stick.”

After winning two games in a row, the Stags are “feeling up right now” according to Cooper. “It’s good to get wins in a row like this especially going down to Buffalo is going to be tough. Two games up north, it’s good to get two wins before that.”

The Stags now head to Buffalo, N.Y. as they look to face both Canisius and Niagara.

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