Tensions were high at a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s basketball match between the Fairfield University Stags (8-12, 4-5 MAAC) and the Rider University Broncs (12-8, 6-4) on Friday, Jan. 30. The Stags had the home-court advantage, playing on George Bisacca Court at Alumni Hall, but after a less than impressive second half performance, they let Rider take home a 68-52 win.
The first half showed great promise for Rider when they established an early lead. Later, they pulled further away from Fairfield when they went on a powerful 7-0 bout, which was stopped with the Broncs ahead, 9-4. Junior guard Taj Benning halted his adversaries’ hot streak, and trimmed their five-point lead to two with an unbelievable three-point basket. Rider regained some traction, but when they were up 13-8, Fairfield went on a 12-2 run which squashed the Stags’ five-point shortcoming. During that time, Fairfield reclaimed the lead in the thirteenth minute of play when Benning netted another three-pointer, breaking the tie, 18-15. The rush was stopped by Rider who fought to keep the deficit as small as possible. They continued applying pressure, and put themselves within one point of the Stags, 20-19. Time went stale in Fairfield’s favor, and they would enter the second half in the lead. This positive momentum would not last long, as Rider returned from intermission with a vengeance.
Fairfield was able to hold Rider off for some time, but they quickly spiraled downward. What sealed the fate of the Stags was a dunk by Dimencio Vaughn, which repossessed the lead for Rider by a single point, 35-34, with 17 minutes and 36 seconds left in the half. Vaughn had a superb night, pacing Rider’s strong force with a field goal percentage of 60 percent, supplying 15 points and having a hand in seven rebounds. Their edge then snowballed when they accumulated 20 points, making Fairfield’s meek seven points over the same eight minutes look weak. The stretch concluded in a 12-point superiority for the visiting team, which left Fairfield with a lot of latitude to make up for in twelve and a half minutes. Jesus Cruz ’21 did his part to try to put the Stags back in the game late in the second period, contributing all seven of his points scored that evening in the latter half of the night. However, Cruz’s efforts were not enough to save his team.
Benning’s stand-out performance on Friday resembled others this season. In the 37 minutes where he saw the court, he posted 19 points for Fairfield; 13 of which were amassed in the first half of play. This showing superseded his previous career-best of 15 points in a single game which was established just weeks earlier on Wednesday, Jan. 15 against St. Peter’s University. The 15-point turnout was repeated again two days later at Iona College. This would be the third time in the last five games where Benning had either matched his scoring-record, or instituted a better one. Graduate student Vincent Eze chipped in nine points to try to keep the Stags afloat, while rookie Chris Maidoh lead his team in rebounds, picking up six for the Stags.
A handful of individuals donning red jerseys could be commended for the way they played, however what led to their demise was a weak second half, which was inconsistent with how Fairfield had proven they could play.
The Stags will take the stage at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. on Tuesday, Feb. 4 for another conference game, this time against Monmouth University (13-8, 7-3 MAAC), at 7:00 p.m..
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