On a day dedicated to commemorate the brave men and women who served time protecting the United States, the Fairfield University Men’s basketball team opened up their season at home on Veteran’s Day. On Saturday, Nov. 11, the Stags welcomed out-of-conference foe, the University of Pennsylvania. Fairfield got off to a strong start to the season as they picked up the 80-72 win over Penn in their home opener.
The Stags were led in scoring by Tyler Nelson ‘18 who started the season with a 30-point performance, the first to accomplish this feat since Mark Plefka ‘78 did it back in the home opener in the 1977-78 season when he started the season with 36 points against Loyola. Due to his performance, Nelson was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Week, the first weekly honor distributed by the conference for the season. When asked about his performance in the game, head coach Sydney Johnson said, “he’s just a winner, he’s going to find ways to put pressure on people in terms of making shots. He plays the right way, so if he draws two he’s going to give it up. He had six assists, no turnovers, when you score 30 points that’s phenomenal but six assists and zero turnovers, he values the basketball, he values playing the right way and he allows me to coach the other guys.”
Nelson wasn’t the only one to have a breakout performance in the home opener as one of the Stags’ rookies made a strong debut as well over Richmond. First-year Wassef Methnani finished the game with a total of 20 points, a team-high eight rebounds and a team-best three blocks in his debut. As a result of his breakout performance, Methnani was named MAAC Men’s Basketball Rookie of the Week. “He played very well and played within himself,” said Johnson of Methnani’s debut.
The Stags faced an early deficit to start the game as the Penn Quakers came out of the gate shooting the ball efficiently, especially from beyond the arc. In the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s contest, the Quakers knocked down four three-pointers to build an early 12-point lead as they lead 26-14 in the first half.
Fairfield would slowly battle back into the game after a Ferron Flavors Jr. ‘21 jumper started the Stags’ offensive run. Flavors Jr.’s jumper got things started for the Stags offensively as they would go on a 15-1 run to cut Penn’s deficit and eventually take the lead.
Following the shot made by Flavors Jr., Nelson followed up with a three-point play that brought the Fairfield faith to their feet. The Stags would continue to connect shots as Penn struggled to contain Fairfield’s offense. With less than four minutes remaining in the first half, Jesus Cruz ‘21 knocked down a mid-range shot that would give the Stags their first lead of the game at 29-27. The Stags would close out the half strong as they battled back from down 12 to take the 36-33 lead at the half.
The second half would see much of the same as the Stags would continue to dominate on both ends of the court. Penn did make a run with 10 minutes left in the second half, as they battled back to tie the game. But that would be all the luck the Quakers would get as the Stags would go on to close out the game, scoring seven consecutive points. The Stags would lead for the remainder of the game as they closed out a 80-72 win over Penn in their season opener.
Speaking on his team performance, Johnson said, “our defense upped it a notch just in terms of our focus. I think it was our focus really, I thought the intensity was OK but we just weren’t locked into the personnel and so they hurt us. We made the adjustment, got back the lead and really played solid defensively.” The Stags will look to carry the momentum as they head out on the road for the first time this season on Saturday, Nov. 18 to take on Purdue at 7 p.m. at the Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.