Following an early exit from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament, the Stags looked to bounce back when they hosted the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday, March 16 as part of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. The Wildcats jumped out to an early advantage putting the Stags in a hole that they were never able to overcome as they would be defeated 77-62.
Five minutes into the start of the game, Fairfield struggled missing three of their first four shots. New Hampshire immediately pounced on Fairfield’s early struggles, knocking down open shots to give them the early 16-6 lead. “We came out a little slow, they made a lot of shots to start. It happens in basketball, but I think we did a good job in the second half of adjusting, we made a run and left it all out there, so I’m proud of the guys,” said Tyler Nelson ’18.
Fairfield would battle back for the remainder of the first half as New Hampshire continued to find open shooters from behind the three point line. The Wildcats would finish the half with nine threes compared to Fairfield’s two. Fairfield’s defense had a tough task as they had to fend off a team that finished as one of the top three-point shooting teams in the American East.
Although facing a huge deficit and a hot offense, Fairfield’s defense would not give up. “I was hoping they would miss, I mean, they had to have made eight of their first nine or 10 of their first 12. It was crazy and God bless them for it, they played hard and were well prepared and they made shots in our gym. Apart from a few defensive lapses, I thought our defense was good, but man, they knocked them down and that built a lead,” said head coach Sydney Johnson about his team’s defense.
With less than six minutes left in the first half, New Hampshire’s lead grew to 21; the largest lead of the game. New Hampshire’s offense just could not be contained as they continued shooting efficiently from the field finishing the half shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 60 percent from the three. Fairfield trailed the Wildcats by a score of 41-24 at the half, as only five players scored in the first half for Fairfield.
Both teams started the second half scoreless as it took four minutes until Fairfield’s Jerry Johnson Jr. ’19 scored the half’s first point. Fairfield’s offense finally started to find consistency on offense as both teams traded shots for shots. With five minutes remaining in the game, the Stags cut the lead down to seven trailing 59-52. When asked about what Fairfield did differently in the second half, Nelson said, “We were getting the shots we wanted offensively, they went in and out a couple times. We knew we had to turn the defense around in the second half and get more stops if we wanted to win the game.”
After Fairfield’s mini run, New Hampshire sealed the deal knocking down shot to give them a double digit lead with only a few minutes remaining in the half. Just like that, Fairfield’s season is over as they were eliminated from the tournament with a final score of 77-62.
Head coach Sydney Johnson spoke about his team’s effort after the game, “We wanted to win tonight just as bad as them. There were tears from myself, from Jerry [Johnson Jr.], from Jonathan [Kasibabu], from a lot of guys because we cared a great deal and put a lot into the season. It’s a tough loss, but it is not a loss that defines our season. What defines our season is a whole lot of joy and a whole lot of winning.”