The Fairfield University Men’s Basketball team faced Iona College in Fairfield University’s Alumni Hall during a Sunday matinee on Jan. 27. For the first time since 2011-12, Alumni Hall was sold out. The excitement was palpable and the players certainly fed off the crowd’s energy.

The Stags came out firing on all cylinders and playing with a purpose. This resulted in Fairfield scoring 10 straight points to start the game without the Iona Gaels recording a single basket. All 2,479 fans in attendance were loving every second of it. The Stags played amazing defense, rotating almost perfectly, only giving up five points in the first seven minutes as Fairfield held a 15-point cushion.

During this electric start to the game by Fairfield, guard Jesus Cruz ‘21 scored eight quick points which included two three-pointers. From minute one, he attacked the basket and took shots with ultimate confidence, which helped him lead his team with 24 points against Iona as well as shooting 53 percent from the field.

“I am just trying to be aggressive and pick my spots. They were laying off me first so I tried to make them pay with my jumpshot. Then, when they started closing in on me, I tried to do my game and drive [to the basket]. I put a lot of work in and trust my game. I was happy I was able to come out and produce the way I did,” said Cruz.

Fairfield held a 17-point lead going into the second half, demonstrating complete control on both sides of the ball as the Stags outscored the Gaels 42-25. First-year point guard Neftali Alvarez scored eight points and grabbed five of his seven rebounds to go along with three assists in the opening half. As a whole, Fairfield had eight assists compared to Iona’s three. Ball movement and sharing the basketball gave the Stags the upper hand.

In the second half, Cruz and junior guard Landon Taliaferro scored 24 of Fairfield’s 38 points in the final half as Taliaferro went 11-12 from the free throw line in the game, clearly showing his aggressiveness, and driving it into the basket. The Stags never let up against Iona, almost doubling their point total from last game against Siena College, where they only scored 48 points.

Head coach Sydney Johnson enjoyed seeing his players attack the basket and get to the free throw stripe as the Stags went 20-25 from the line. He noted how this created opportunities throughout the game and how it was instrumental in Fairfield’s win on Sunday.

“The attempts were really important for us because it meant we were being aggressive. I love seeing Landon with 12 free throws. We are really pushing Landon to attack the basket if they chase you off the line. It was also really important that when we did get fouled, we rewarded ourselves. They did not become empty possessions,” said Johnson.

On the defensive side, the Stags played top-notch defense, causing 19 Iona turnovers as well as defending the three-pointer effectively, only allowing the Gaels to connect on three three-pointers.

“Basketball is a real simple game. The real mark of a team is when you watch how they defend and you watch the bench, you can see the cohesiveness of the group. I thought we defended pretty well because we were giving each other the greatest effort we could” said the Stags head coach.

Johnson, along with all the players, thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere in Alumni Hall, playing in front of a sold out crowd. Every single player and coach on the sideline fed off of the excitement.

“It was wonderful. I have to tell you, I absolutely love playing on campus. There is nothing like it and it helped us today. And our guys love it too. We want to be here as often as possible because it’s special,” said Johnson.

The Fairfield Stags now hold a 6-15 record as they travel to face Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference foe Manhattan College on Thursday, Jan. 31 in Riverdale, N.Y.

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