Close, but not close enough.

The Fairfield men’s basketball team saw its season come to a close on Saturday when they were defeated, 64-59, in their CIT Semifinal match-up against the Mercer Bears.

With only seven healthy players in Fairfield’s line-up, the Stags (22-15) fell just short of reaching the CIT Championship game. The Stags backcourt was severely depleted considering Derek Needham (foot), Sean Crawford (knee), and Desmond Wade (hand) were unable to play in the contest.

“I can’t speak for the guys, but I’m pretty disappointed by the end of the season. I thought we had more basketball in us, it just seemed like if a few plays here or there went our way, we may have had a different outcome,” said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson.

Senior forward Rakim Sanders led Fairfield with 16 points, while underclassmen forwards Keith Matthews and Maurice Barrow continued their late-season impressive play by scoring 14 and 12 points respectively.

The Stags had the lead only briefly early on in the game, and the three-point shot proved to be the deciding factor in the contest as Fairfield shot merely 19 percent while the Mercer Bears were on fire going 50 percent from beyond the arc.

“They had a lot of snipers (shooters) on their team and we had to change some of our defensive principles. We just couldn’t get that one play to get us over the hump in the end,” said guard Colin Nickerson, who took advantage of his opportunity to shine on both ends of the floor over the course of the Stags post-season.

Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman credited Fairfield for their inspired play as his team was able to advance after winning at Alumni Hall, which proved to be a hostile environment with 1,557 passionate fans in attendance.

“It was amazing how tough and physical the game was. Fairfield fought hard,” said Mercer.

With all of the adversity the Stags faced whether it was injuries or the low level of support for the team during their lackluster stretches throughout their schedule, this Fairfield team proved their worth toward the end of the season.

Whether it was the star-power consistency from players like Sanders or the emergence of the young forward duo Maurice Barrow and Keith Mathews, the Stags grew together by building a great amount of trust in one and other.

“We had a bumpy road early on, but when the guys put the confusion and tensions aside, that’s when you saw a really good Fairfield basketball team,” said Johnson.

“Basketball wise we grew up as a team we fought hard to bounce back. Everyone got clicking at the right time and we became a family,” said Nickerson.

Although this team may not have reached the ultimate goal of a MAAC Championship, they certainly showed great progress and achieved late-season success.

“Overall, I felt I learned a lot not only as a player, but [also] as a man. The trust we had in each other helped us out over the course of the season,” said Sanders.

Despite the loss of graduating seniors Sanders, Ryan Olander, Sean Crawford, and Gary Martin, the team shows a lot of promise and great potential for next year.

“Up and down season became into something and we made a great run. Disappointed not to win a MAAC Championship, but we’ll have the same goal to achieve next season,” said Matthews.

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