After a strong effort by the Fairfield men’s basketball team on Friday, they came up short against Quinnipiac with a final score of 60-59. Coming into the game, the Stags were shorthanded as both Amadou Sidibe ‘16 and Malcolm Gilbert ‘15 were not in uniform.
“We were shorthanded, but nobody really cares about that,” said head coach Sydney Johnson. “I thought our guys played off the charts. It had a fair amount to do with the guys that were out there. It’s Mike [Kirkland Jr.] ‘16, it’s Coleman [Johnson] ‘16; they showed a lot of heart. Coleman had a big bounce back game … and Kevin Degnan ‘18, as a freshman, I just loved the passion that I saw tonight.”
The Stags started the game slow, struggling to knock down shots. They began 2-7 from the field with a few turnovers to give Quinnipiac the early lead. Quinnipiac was able to defend the three-point shots well, as Fairfield shot just 2-13 from beyond the three-point line.
Fairfield was outrebounded during the first half, as well, as Quinnipiac was able to grab 28 boards, nine more than Fairfield. As the half rolled on, the Stags found ways to score and quietly remain in the picture. Fairfield was led by forward Steve Smith ‘17 and guard Jerome Segura ‘18, as they each added six points, 12 of the team’s 21 points of the first half.
“I think our execution was a little bit choppy. There were some things that were open that we didn’t convert, and then missed a few shots,” said Johnson. “We were 2-13 at the half from the three [point line]. I think in the second half we settled in and did a much better job.”
As the second half started, the offense of the Stags seemed to change dramatically. They were doing a great job of moving the ball and running a patient offense. Just as the Stags were battling to get back in the game, the Bobcats kept attacking and knocking down shots from beyond the arc. Senior forward Justin Harris led Quinnipiac with 23 points and nine rebounds, one shy of a double-double.
“He made some big jump shots and when he’s got that in his game, it spreads you out,” said Johnson. “Anytime a big guy can make 15 to 20 foot jump shots that certainly adds an element that puts a lot of pressure on defense. I thought we overcame all that. At the end of the day, we had two shots to win it.”
With time running down, the Stags, led by Marcus Gilbert ‘16, made one final push. Gilbert added 12 points in the second half, where he converted two shots from beyond the arc. Fairfield finally took the lead with just 2:19 left in the game. Both teams played strong defense as time was running out. With less than 25 seconds left in the game, Fairfield was down by one.
“We can win; more importantly, the guys in the huddle were saying they could win,” said Johnson. “It’s these guys that need to believe as much as we do and they certainly did tonight.”
Gilbert took a jumper to win the game and missed, but picked up his own rebound and attempted a layup under heavy traffic. His last-second shot did not fall, and just like that, Quinnipiac edged the Stags.
“No secret, we’re trying to get it to our best guy,” said Johnson. “Credit them. They have two guys that they can look for [Ousmane] Drame and [Zaid] Hearst. Marcus is our guy and got two looks; fumbled the first and kept playing. He was right there to get the second one, a putback. Somehow it just didn’t get up there to the rim.”
After the game, Johnson said nothing but great things about his team’s performance: “Their heart and passion was fantastic and it filled the building and that’s how we have to be every time we take the floor.”
The Stags will hope to get back on track in their next game against Niagara this Thursday at 7 p.m.