On the face of every Fairfield men’s basketball player, as the team sat in Eastern Iowa Airport waiting to fly back to the east coast after the Hawkeye Challenge, was a well-earned look of satisfaction.

What the Stags did over the weekend, which was put a scare into 14th ranked Iowa and convincingly beat Tulane to pick up the season’s first win, allowed them to head into Friday’s MAAC opener against Loyola with a far more up-beat attitude than one might expect from a 1-4 team.

“I’m proud of them,” said Stags Head Coach Tim O’Toole. “When you’re doing good things, you’re going to have a chance.”

The good things, whether or not all of them showed up in the box score, were there every bit as much in Friday’s 75-59 loss as they were in Saturday’s 80-68 win. Despite having literally no low post game whatsoever, the Stags hung with the Hawkeyes throughout the night and trailed by just five with 3:22 to play.

Up against a Hawkeye front line that included Player of the Year candidate Greg Brunner and 6’11” center Erik Hansen, the Stags, led mostly by guards who out-positioned their taller opponents, were only out-rebounded 42-35, and had 16 offensive boards to the Hawkeyes’ seven – something that caught the attention of Iowa Head Coach Steve Alford.

“They got way too many offensive rebounds, and that enabled them to get easier looks at threes,” he said.

Then, the next night against Tulane, everything came together. The Stags shot a sizzling 53 percent from three-point range, and thoroughly out-played a taller, more athletic team. When all was said and done, Michael Van Schaick ’07 was named to the all-tournament team after averaging 15.5 points over the two games. But he may not have been the most impressive Fairfield guard on the weekend.

That honor may go to Jonathan Han ’09, who dazzled the crowd in snowy Iowa City with a court presence far beyond his years, and with what has become a familiar stroke from behind the arc.

Han was rewarded for his efforts on Monday when he was named MAAC Rookie of the Week for the first time.

“Despite only being a freshman, he’s showed that he can play with anybody, including teams like Iowa and all the top teams,” said Terrance Todd ’06. “He’s doing a really good job so far and hopefully it continues.”

Against Tulane, Han set the pace early, taking three three-pointers in the first half and hitting all of them, but his was simply one among many praise-worthy efforts put forth by Stags guards. Van Schaick and Danny Oglesby ’06 scored 14 points apiece, and Todd, after being shut out for most of the game, exploded for a game-high tying 18 points, all of which took place in the final nine minutes.

“Terrance just took over, and as soon as Terrance took over, I knew we were going to win because they didn’t have anybody who could guard him,” Van Schaick said.

But although the guards carried the team, as they have in every game so far, the Stags were helped in no small part by the improved play of Geoff Middleton ’08, who at 6’9″ is by far the tallest player on the team.

With Alvin Carter ’05 limited to 14 minutes by foul trouble (he fouled out mid-way through the second half), Middleton saw his most significant playing time as a Stag, and used it well. In a career-high 24 minutes, he tied a career-high with four points, but more importantly, he blocked a career-high four shots, and helped hold Green Wave center Quincy Davis – the reigning Conference USA field goal percentage leader – to six points on 1-3 shooting from the floor.

“I feel like I had an all right game, but I can always do better. I had an opportunity to play a lot of minutes today, so I’m just looking to contribute the most that I can,” Middleton said.

With the monkey off their backs, the Stags happily waited out an hour-long delay in Cedar Rapids, and a long connecting flight home from Chicago to New York – situations that could have given them a lot to mull over, but instead passed with optimism regarding the up-coming league season.

“It’s been a struggle for us not getting a win and playing so hard in a couple of our games and coming up short, ” Van Schaick said. “So it’s definitely a relief, and it’s a big win to have before our league game on Friday.”

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