Playing in the CIT Tournament was not the ultimate goal of the Fairfield men’s basketball team going into this season.
This was obvious as the Stags lacked energy and passion in the first half in their first round match-up against Yale, but the switch turned on for Fairfield at halftime and they came out with a 68-56 win against the Bulldogs.
After the disappointing loss to Loyola in the MAAC Championship, Fairfield came out flat against Yale on both sides of the ball and trailed the Bulldogs 39-26 going into the half. However, in the locker room it was an unlikely source, associate head coach Tony Newsom, that instilled energy for the Stags and he certainly lit a fire under his group.
“This wasn’t the tournament that we expected to be in, so we were kind of acting like, `We don’t want to be in this.’ But at halftime, Coach (Newsom) told us that other teams would kill to be in this spot so take advantage of it, and we did,” said junior guard Colin Nickerson, who scored a career-high 22 points and had 5 steals for Fairfield.
Nickerson’s aggression on both sides of the ball was instrumental for the Stags, especially in the second half, as Fairfield scored 20 points off Yale turnovers. Although Yale’s All-Ivy League player Greg Mangano (17 total points) had his way with the Stags in the first half, Fairfield’s defense clamped down and outscored the Bulldogs by an astounding 42-17 margin in the second half.
“We weren’t getting after it in the first half and Yale was outworking us. Hard to play physically and emotionally this time of year, but the energy in the second half was fantastic. We dug deeper and a lot of guys responded for us,” said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson whose Stags improved to 20-14, winning 20 games for the third straight season.
One of those guys that responded for the Stags was senior walk-on Gary Martin, who provided a spark for the Stags with solid defense, a basket, and an assist when Fairfield was down 40-32 with 16 minutes left in the contest.
“Coach told me to be ready and luckily I was able to stay within myself and not be nervous out there. Happy with what I was able to do for the team,” said Martin.
Between Nickerson’s energetic play, Martin’s spark, and senior forward Rakim Sanders 21 point 11-rebound effort, Fairfield did what it had to do in order to advance in what is the teams’ third straight postseason trip.
Fairfield will face off against a familiar opponent, Manhattan (MAAC member), in Sunday’s 4 p.m. matchup at Alumni Hall. The Jaspers (21-12) defeated Albany 89-79 behind a 34- point effort from George Beamon in order to advance in the tournament.
The Stags may not have wanted to play in the CIT Tournament, but now that they have one victory under their belt, it is only fitting that they take advantage of the opportunity and keep doing what they are capable of; winning.
“We’re very conscious of us being in the postseason three years in a row. We came up short of the NCAA’s, but we’re glad to keep playing and let people know who we are,” said Johnson.