On Feb. 11 at the Arena at Harbor Yard, after Fairfield had just been slaughtered by first place Iona, one of the first things out of Head Coach Tim O’Toole’s mouth was, “we have to get more out of DeWitt Maxwell [’06].” Really though, he had to get more out of everyone: Maxwell, who was shut out by the Gaels and picked up just one rebound in 19 minutes; leading scorer Terrance Todd ’06, who was held under 15 points for the third straight game; and just about everyone else who had failed to get the job done in the 89-66 rout, during which the Gaels went on an astounding 79-38 run. The game was so much an embarrassment for the team that even the last minute of the game, when the final score was just a formality and both coaches emptied their benches, seldom-used walk-on guard Charles Bentley was ejected for accidentally pushing a referee, adding insult to injury in the eyes of most observers. But remarkably, every single negative, including the seemingly embarrassing Bentley situation, turned into a shining positive in the Stags’ thrilling 109-108 victory over Saint Peter’s on Feb 14, during which Maxwell, Todd and the rest of the team came to life with a startling amount of ease. O’Toole, seeking the need to change just about everything, put out a starting lineup with three new faces against the Peacocks: Maxwell, Michael Bell ’06, and – who would have though? – Bentley. Bentley only played two minutes, but O’Toole said afterward that his presence at the beginning of the game may have sparked the offense. No one will know for sure how accurate that statement is. But what was clear was that Maxwell was a different player. He poured in a career-high 27 points, and in the process, surpassed the 1,000 point mark in his career, joining Todd as members of this year’s team in the exclusive club. Maxwell added 12 rebounds in his 36 minutes on the court, adding to what was perhaps his finest game as a Stag, just one game after one of his worst. Todd, for his part, resembled the player that had four straight 20-point games earlier this year, finishing with 28 on 9-of-17 shooting. This team, especially after this game, has become one of the hardest to figure out in basketball, not only this year, but possibly in the last several years. After the Iona debacle, O’Toole and captain Alvin Carter ’05 lacked the words to describe the state of disarray that the team appeared to be in. “I don’t know man,” he said after that game. ” We came into this game hoping we could pick off some teams and Iona was going to be the first one, but we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. I don’t know what strategy coach is going to think of.” The revamped starting lineup was certainly one of those things. Using Maxwell more was another. But things don’t change so drastically simply because of a difference in the organization of personnel. The obvious disparity in the performances of Maxwell and Todd prove what has been obvious all year; for whatever reason, it is a mystery before each game what team is going to show up: the one that showed up – or perhaps didn’t show up is better wording – against Iona, or the one that showed up against Saint Peter’s and scored the most points since 1991. Now, of course, it would be a fatal mistake to put too much emphasis on the out-pouring of offense without giving justice to one very important reality: the Stags gave up 108 points that night. Forty-two of them came from Keydren Clark, the all-time leading scorer in MAAC history and a walking human highlight reel. Though Clark’s perfrormance was nothing short of remarkable, it certainly suggests a lack of defense on the Stags. Either way though, Saint Peter’s players not named Clark still managed 67 points – a total that would have outscored the Stags a game before. But the outpouring of offense and the senior leadership, both of which have been lacking at times this year, suggest that this team is capable of muych more than their 9-15 record suggests. This is a team, let’s not forget, that gave Iowa, then the 14th ranked team in the country all it could handle, trailing by just five points with under four minutes to play before falling 75-59. It is also a team that, without the benefit of having Maxwell and Mamdou Diakhate ’07 in the low post, was tested a lot early in the year. In addition to Iowa, they played at Georgetown, a team that is now one of the hottest in the country. During both of those games, they held key opponents below their season averages, including Greg Brunner of Iowa and Roy Hibbert of Georgetown. Still though, despite their flashes of brilliance, they have played some of the worst stretches of basketball within single games of any team in the MAAC. Fordham, Marist and Iona have all gone on runs of at least 13-0, and no such run was more devastating than the one put forth by Iona, when the Gaels turned a 17-6 deficit into an 85-55 lead. The question now, in this season of ups and downs, is which Fairfield team will show up during the final three regular season games, but particularly, during the ones that count: MAAC contests at Manhattan Feb. 23 and at home against Marist Feb. 25 to close out the regular season. Their game on Feb. 18 at Loyola-Chicago on Bracket Buster Saturday doesn’t count towards their conference record, and their overall record means nothing unless they get to the NCAA tournament, in which case it would be a factor in determining seeding. But nevertheless, in that game, the Stags need to play the brand of basketball they played against Saint Peter’s. Since the first day of practice, we’ve known what this team does wrong. But, as they reminded us with their outpouring of offense, they do a lot right too. After all, if they play like they did Tuesday night for the rest of the year and in the MAAC tournament, its possible – though certainly unlikely – that the NCAA tournament committee may have to think about what seed to give Fairfield.

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