Two huge performances from Kelsey Carey ‘17 and Casey Smith ‘17 helped Fairfield outlast Rider University in Wednesday’s conference matchup at Webster Bank Arena.
An even start for both offenses saw both sides enter the second media timeout with Rider leading 10-9. The Broncs’ offense began to find their stride, and after two trips to the free throw line and back-to-back layups from Robin Perkins, the Stags found themselves down 18-11 at the 7:49 mark.
Carey was the bright spot for Fairfield’s offense down the stretch in the first half, scoring seven of the last nine points for the Stags. The sophomore forward shot four out of eight from the field and grabbed three rebounds. The Broncs held a narrow advantage on shooting, hitting nine of 23 shots compared to eight of 22 for Fairfield. However, Rider’s strength was getting to the free throw line, where they shot nine for 11, and would take a 27-20 lead into halftime.
“We struggle against teams that are very physical with us,” said Head Coach Joe Frager. “Rider did a great job defensively against us in the first half and took us out of a lot of what we wanted to run.”
Both teams were off to a slow start in the second half, but two layups from Smith and a jumper from Carey would bring the Stags within three at the first media timeout. Quality looks at the basket were at a premium at both ends, but Fairfield’s defense came out much more controlled, committing only two fouls by the time the 7:25 mark came. The Broncs had committed eight by that point, allowing the Stags to gain seven precious points from the line and a 36-35 lead going into the second media timeout.
“We did a much better job on the boards in the second half,” Frager said. “We didn’t give them as many second and third-shot opportunities.”
The score line would stay close with each side picking up the pace, trading baskets and defensive stops, and Fairfield held a narrow 42-40 lead in the final minutes. Frager called a timeout with 1:50 left after his side made a handful of defensive stops to keep the two-point lead. The Stags would turn the ball over on their next possession, but a key block from Smith with the shot clock winding down kept the ball, and the lead, with Fairfield.
Another turnover would again give the ball back to Rider with 32.2 seconds remaining. Senior Felicia DaCruz would come up with a huge defensive rebound off Rider’s missed jumper and head to the free throw line, where the senior guard made one of two to push the lead to 43-40. The Broncs were able to get a deep three-point short off at the buzzer which fell short into the hands of DaCruz, ending the game in favor of the Stags, 43-40.
“Kelsey and Casey really stepped up and did big things for us this game,” said Frager. “We need that. These guys are still learning on the job, but I’ve been very proud of them.”
Smith and Carey scored 16 points apiece for Fairfield, while the team shot 40 percent from the field. Rider held the edge on rebounds (36-33), but the improved second-half shooting and keeping the Broncs off the free throw line was what made the difference for the Stags. Frager’s defense also held Rider’s leading scorer, Robin Perkins (12.7 ppg), to only four on the evening.
“This was important that we got this one first, and now we just need to knuckle down and do the best we can over this next three-game stretch,” Frager said of the upcoming conference match ups. “It [the next three games] will be a battle of styles, and who will be able to impose their will on the other.”
The Stags return home to host Iona at Alumni Hall on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.