The Fairfield men’s basketball team looked to win their second consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference game, but had no easy opponent: the MAAC-leading Gaels of Iona College. Iona was coming into the game with an overall record of 10-8, and a 7-2 record in MAAC play.

Senior Marcus Gilbert knocked down Fairfield’s first nine points on three-pointers to give the Stags an early 9-2 advantage. Gilbert had a memorable game that will not soon be forgotten, as he finished the game with a team-high 32 points and 10 rebounds to lead his team to a 98-91 win.

“He’s really deserving. He’s worked so hard on his game from his freshman year all the way to senior year. Iona’s been a tough team for us to beat and he finally gets a win against them,” said head coach Sydney Johnson on Gilbert’s performance.

Fairfield jumped out to an incredible start. Just five minutes into the game, the Stags held a 20-4 lead. After a few timeouts, Iona regained their composure and went on a run of their own to cut the deficit to eight at 20-12.

Just as Iona seemed to get comfortable, the Stags answered right back with yet another scoring run. Senior Scott King, Jr. provided a huge lift off the bench, scoring nine of his 11 in the first half of play while also adding a few rebounds. Both Jerry Johnson, Jr. ’19 and Tyler Nelson ’18 connected on shots from beyond the arc to push Fairfield’s lead to 34-19 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the half.

“Everybody has a contribution that’s incredibly important to this team. I tell them that every day because I mean it and our games are showing it, so I think they’re starting to believe in themselves as much as I believe in every single one of them,” said Johnson of the balanced offense.

The Stags continued to play well for the remainder of the half, as they headed towards the half up 50-42. Fairfield did a great job at containing Iona’s leading scorer A.J. English, who’s averaging 24.5 points per game as he finished the half scoreless. “We were certainly locked in, he’s a very good player,” Johnson said. “We knew that we had to really be focused on him and I think we were and that was certainly one of the keys for us to win.”

After not converting a basket in the first half, Jerome Segura ’18 started the half knocking down a three pointer. Once again, the Stags caught fire and went on another scoring run. The first five minutes of the half saw scoring from both Segura and Gilbert as they increased the Stags’ lead to 17 at 62-45.

Segura, who did not score in the first half, went on to finish the game with seven points and seven assists. “He’s our guy — we are absolutely following him. I tell him that, I tell the whole team that. The way that he affects the game, offensive and defensively — it’s a trigger, it gets us going. Without him it looks a little different and we can struggle at times,” said Johnson on Segura’s impact on the game.

Just when things looked to being going smoothly for Fairfield, the Gaels woke up from their hibernation and battled back to make the game competitive. With just a little over 11 minutes remaining in the game, Iona would cut the lead down to three at 68-65 after English came out of his scoring slump to lead the comeback. English would finish the game with 16 points, while Jordan Washington added 33 and 12 boards to lead all players in both categories.

Fairfield immediately answered back, pushing their lead back to a double-digit lead at 90-79 with less than five minutes left on the game clock. Fairfield relied on its defense to limit Iona’s offense as they never gave up the lead and would close out the game on top 98-91.

Speaking on the team’s defensive effort, Gilbert said it’s “very important, even though if we get down, we’re still going to keep coming because we’ve been in the same situation before.” Gilbert also added that “showing our resiliency today, keeping them from winning the game shows maturity in the team and great leadership. We’re just not going to back down.”

Fairfield was led not only by Gilbert but also Nelson, who finished the game with a total of 22 points.

“He’s an absolute winner. He’s just a terrific basketball player. I know how good we are and can be when we have him in uniform,” said Johnson on Nelson’s play.

The Stags are now even at 10-10 overall and 5-5 in MAAC play as they look to win their third straight when they host Canisius on Friday, Jan. 29 at Webster Bank Arena.

 

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