The Fairfield University men’s basketball team played in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament this past week at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ.
Going into the tournament the Men’s basketball team had a record of 7-16 overall and 7-11 in conference play.
The men’s first round game took place on March 9, where the Stags faced a Manhattan College squad they had just previously split with. Jesus Cruz ‘21, who had a solid year for the Stags averaging 8.4 points a game, scored 16 points off the bench to lead the Stags to a thrilling 59-59 overtime win to advance to the Quarterfinals against Monmouth University.
Heading into the Quarterfinal, Fairfield and Monmouth were unfamiliar with each other as they had not yet played against each other in the regular season.
Unlike the night prior, the Stags looked comfortable and in control during most of the game, dominating the inside with 44 rebounds compared to Monmouth’s 27. Taj Benning ‘21, a leading scorer for the Stags, had an amazing performance with 24 points to send the Stags to the Semi-Finals against third seed Saint Peter’s.
Fairfield (10-16, 7-11 MAAC) and Saint Peter’s (14-11, 10-8 MAAC) previously split their series in February, which meant this game was anyone’s for the taking, no matter how different the records and conference positions were for the two teams.
Senior Benning, who had a stellar Quarter-Final performance, was held to zero points on 0-8 shooting. The Stags did not panic, holding the Peacocks to 35 percent shooting and turned to Caleb Green ‘22, Cruz ‘21, and Jake Wojcik ‘22, who each had more than 10 plus points in the game.
The Stags were able to edge past a tough Saint Peter’s squad with a narrow win of 52-47, where Fairfield advanced to face Iona College in the MAAC Championship. The Stags looked to get revenge on Iona, as they were beaten in the MAAC Championship against the Gaels in 2018.
Similar to Saint Peter’s, the Stags had previously split with Iona in the regular season and had all the momentum coming into the matchup. Although Iona was the favorite coming into the game, faithful Stags believed we had what it takes to go dancing.
Unfortunately, the Stags were defeated 60-51, where they struggled on offensive, shooting 30 percent from the field and only scoring 18 points in the first half. The Gaels also controlled the glass, out rebounding the Stags 38 to 30, who have a poor record of 2-9 when outrebounded by an opponent.
Wojcik ‘22, had a strong sending off with 13 points and 8 rebounds, showcasing what the Junior has been doing all season. The Gaels were too much for the Stags to handle, as Coach Rick Pitino led Iona to their 12th MAAC Championship.
Even though the Stags did not receive their automatic bid in March Madness, they still played with resilience and heart. Coach Jay Young was especially proud of his guys, explaining the work ethic his team has.
“Every day I come to work, I love the university. I love the place and mostly I love these kids,” Fairfield coach Jay Young said. “They’ve given it everything that we’ve had this year. We didn’t start well. There could have been a thousand reasons to pack it in and they never did. And this is just the result of them coming to practice every day with a great attitude.”
The men’s basketball team should feel proud of the run they made and should be excited with what the future holds. With a talented coach, strong returning players, and new recruits the Stags should be a tough matchup for any team in the MAAC in next year’s season.
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