The Fairfield University men’s basketball team traveled to Jersey City, N.J. this past weekend, where they faced a tough Saint Peter’s University squad in a double header on Saturday, Feb. 13 and Sunday, Feb. 14. Coming into the matchup, the Stags had a record of 4-13 overall and 4-8 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, while the Peacocks are on a much different path, with a record of 9-6 overall and 6-4 in the conference. Having just won a big game against Quinnipiac University last week on Monday, Feb. 8, the Stags looked to build on that momentum and win back-to-back games for the first time this season. Saint Peter’s would surely be no pushover, as the Peacocks have one of the best defenses in the MAAC and an elite shot blocker in KC Ndefo ‘22, guaranteeing an exciting series for basketball fans.
On Saturday, Feb. 13 the Stags opened the game with shooting troubles, scoring only five points in the first 10 minutes of the game and shooting about 20 percent from the field. Although the Stags struggled offensively as a team, defensive intensity allowed them to tie the game at halftime, 17-17, credit to Taj Benning ‘21 who had 10 first half points and tied the game with a big three-pointer at the end of the half with four seconds remaining. The second half proved to be much more promising for the Stags, as they kept their defensive pressure, holding the Peacocks to 32 percent from the field and 11 percent from the three-point line.
Along with defense, the Stags took Saint Peter’s best player, Ndefo, completely out of the game. This gave Chris Maidoh ‘23 the opportunity to dominate the inside, scoring 13 points and collecting seven rebounds. Benning also carried his commendable first half performance into the second, finishing with 20 points and hitting clutch shots to keep the Stags within striking distance. The Stags took the lead with two minutes and 34 seconds remaining, at 48-46, where they went on a 8-2 run. This was finished off by Jake Wojcik ‘22, who sank a three-pointer to ice the game and give Saint Peter’s their first home loss since early January, falling short with a five-point deficit. Fairfield came away with a 55-50 victory to create a two-game win streak going into the second leg of their trip.
The Stags looked to sweep the Peacocks on Sunday, Feb. 14, just a day after their big win against St. Peter’s the night before. Fairfield, unlike the night prior, started out swinging, taking an early 10-8 lead with 13:27 left in the first half. The Peacocks then answered and applied defensive pressure along with offensive cohesiveness, that was too much for the Stags to handle. Led by star player Ndefo, who scored 13 points in the first 20 minutes of play, the Peacocks went into the half-time break with a 13 point lead at 22-35.
The beginning of the second half was working out in favor of the Stags, as they started to chip away at their shortcoming, going on a 14-7 run that brought the game within six points with 12 minutes remaining. The Stags’ hope of a comeback was quickly squashed by Saint Peter’s ability to force turnovers and bad shots. Alongside the defensive willingness, Ndefo finished the game with a career high 20 points, where he and the Peacocks looked themselves again.
Wojcik led the stags with 15 points, 3-3 from the field on 50 percent shooting. Ndefo led the Peacocks with 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Although the 66-49 outcome in favor of the home-team was disappointing for the Stags, they still have another six games to prove themselves before the 2021 MAAC Championship tournament scheduled for the week of March 8.
The Stags played two games against a very tough Saint Peter’s squad, who is not only one of the best defensive teams in the MAAC, but also one of the best shooting teams. Coming away with a win will give the Stags a lot of confidence. When Fairfield is playing their best defense, they have a chance to beat anyone in the conference, we saw that with their win on Feb. 13.
“Our defense kept us around in the first half, it could have been a blowout, something much worse, so our defense was able to keep us around and we were able to keep it tight, luckily,” said Coach Young following Saturday’s game.
Defense is a part of Young’s identity, which is why the Stags have invested so deeply in his system. If they can fix their offensive struggles, the Stags will finish their season strong and on a positive note.
The Stags now have a record of 5-13 overall, and 5-8 in the MAAC. Fairfield’s next opponent will be Canisius College, where they will host the Golden Griffins at Alumni Hall on Feb. 19 at 5:00 p.m.