On Sunday night, minutes away from the end of game against the Manhattan Jaspers, Derek Needham ’13 stepped off the court and entered into a tearful embrace with head coach Sydney Johnson.
Fairfield men’s basketball team ended their MAAC Tournament run with a 60-42 loss in the semifinals to Manhattan.
The Stags entered the tournament as the #7 seed, playing #10 Saint Peter’s in the opening round.
In the regular season, Fairfield had defeated Saint Peter’s in both games. The Stags beat them again with a 54-47 on Friday night.
Needham led the Stags with 24 points in the contest, with four three-pointers. Amadou Sidibe ’16, who was honored as one of the MAAC Rookies of the Year, contributed 13 rebounds to the effort.
The Stags then went on to play #2 Rider in the quarterfinals, another team they defeated twice in the regular season. The Broncs gave the Stags more of a challenge, but the Stags overcame, winning the game 43-42.
Needham again led the game in scoring 19 points, 8 of which came from free throws including six straight in the dying moments of the game.
“Derek was outstanding tonight and he really willed us to win. We keep finding ways to get it done and there is something special about that. I am really proud of this group of seniors and of this team,” Coach Johnson told FairfieldStags.com.
It was a bit of a different story when the Stags moved on to the semifinals to play Manhattan, a team they were unable to beat in the regular season. Manhattan had also given Needham a hard time in those games.
Tonight wasn’t much different.
Needham experienced tight coverage throughout the game. After the game, Manhattan remarked that they wanted to hold Needham, and make other people on the team beat them.
“I think they liked me,” Needham joked in the postgame press conference, when asked about the coverage.
With Needham held, the Stags had to look to others to get points on the board. Maurice Barrow ’14 ended the game with the most points for the Stags with 15. Coleman Johnson ’16 came off the bench to score 10 points for the team as well.
If anything, the game showed that other players do have the ability to put points on the board in the absence of Needham – something they’ll have to do when Needham is gone next year.
Emotions ran high in the closing minutes of the game, as Coach Johnson and the crowd celebrated the successful senior class of Needham, Colin Nickerson and Desmond Wade.
In every postgame press conference of the year, Coach Johnson was always quick to praise his seniors and the work they put in.
Everyone will be sad to see them go – except maybe the opposing teams.