“It never is easy,” Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said, managing a smile outside of the locker room following a narrow 79-74 win.
On the shoulders of Maurice Barrow ‘14 and Marcus Gilbert ‘16, Fairfield survived a late charge from the Marist Red Foxes in the final game of their regular season. The nearly 2,400 in attendance – Fairfield’s second-largest crowd of the season – witnessed an impressive first-half performance.
Typical of the youthful Stags, strong defense was overshadowed by foul trouble. Fairfield committed their seventh team foul with nearly 12 minutes still to play. Not typical was the offensive performance that came with them.
Marcus Gilbert would hit his fifth 3-pointer of the half to put Fairfield up 26-12 before Marist coach Jeff Bower had enough, calling his second timeout with 7:32 to play.
Fairfield continued to run the floor at both ends. A Malcolm Gilbert ‘15 tip-in pushed the lead to 21, their largest against any team this season. The Stags would cool off, but take a 40-25 lead at halftime.
Fairfield’s foul trouble (10 in the first half) was canceled out by Marcus Gilbert’s 15 points, all of which were 3-pointers. Only two turnovers, coupled with 11 second-chance points and 15 points off the bench fueled the offense.
The Stags continued to shoot well, including Barrow hitting his fourth 3-pointer of the night to give the Stags a 61-46 lead with 9:10 to play. However, Marist would slowly but surely chip away at the lead.
Following a Barrow free throw at 6:44, Fairfield went ice cold as a 5-0 Marist run whittled the lead down to nine following the last media timeout.
Marist cut the lead to five with just over a minute to play after a 3-pointer from forward Jay Bowie. Fairfield’s crowd, and certainly head coach Sydney Johnson, were fearing yet another late-game collapse from the Stags.
A Barrow layup would edge the lead to seven, but a steal and a layup, following a Marist free throw would pull the lead right back to 73-69 with 50 seconds on the clock.
A Marist jump shot and pair of free throws in the last 30 seconds would pull the Red Foxes within three, but that was as close as they would get. Barrow would be fouled and make one of two free throws in his last appearance on a Fairfield court to seal a 78-74 win.
Barrow and Marcus Gilbert paced the Stag offense with 22 points apiece. Freshman K.J. Rose added 11 of his own off the bench. Fairfield closed the regular season with a 4-16 league record, 7-24 overall.
Entering the MAAC tournament as a number 10 seed later this week, they will play seventh seeded St. Peter’s. The Peacocks have a 13-16 overall record, 9-11 in the conference. Fairfield dropped both match-ups with them this season by one point each.
The game will be played on Thursday, March 6 in Springfield, Mass.
“You always want to be playing your best basketball at the end of the season,” Johnson said. They’re really enjoying their time … and we’re trying to make the best of it. We want to strike lightning in a bottle.