The game may not have any impact on the standings, but Fairfield Head Coach Ed Cooley was very pleased to see the way his team played defense and handled the ball in their victory over William ‘ Mary, 61-45 in the ESPN Bracketbusters game.

On Wednesday against Siena, the Stags struggled down the stretch and gave a way a chance at a victory. On Saturday night, Fairfield was able to expand on a ten point lead over the final four and a half minutes to pick up momentum heading into Monday’s game against Marist, who are first place in the MAAC.

“We had a debacle, a meltdown against Siena,” said Cooley. “That has really bothered me and that is all we addressed coming down the stretch, if you take care of the basketball and defend and rebound, you are going to win a good share of games.”

Fairfield (12-17) held William ‘ Mary (15-12) to 41.9 percent from the floor for its second lowest point total of the season. The Stags turned the ball over just seven times, compared to 21 against Siena, while forcing 16 Tribe turnovers.

Senior guard Michael Van Schaick, the team’s leading scorer on the season who averages 14.9 points per game, was held to just six points. But the rest of the team stepped up as Anthony Johnson, Greg Nero, and Jonathan Han finished in double figures.

It was the first time since Dec. 6, against Boston College, that Van Schaick was held under ten points. He had scored at least ten points in the last 17 games.

“You credit your team for growing Van Schaick is off the floor,” Cooley said. “I think its a sign of maturity and a sign of a good direction, because Van Schaick has a handful of games left with us and we have to learn to play without him.”

Freshman forward Anthony Johnson led the way for the Stags with 16 points and also pulled down four rebounds. The Stags frontcourt was a key to victory as fellow freshman Nero had 13 points and five rebounds. Senior forward Marty O’Sullivan added nine points off the bench, all on three pointers.

“This was the first time all year all our frontcourt players played well together,” said Cooley. “With Anthony, Nero, and Marty coming off the bench. We rotated those three big guys in and he [O’Sullivan] did a really good job keeping us going, especially extending the floor and making some big shots.”

“Like coach said, our front court guys really played well together tonight,” said Nero. “We communicated a lot both offensively and defensively so that we were able to get a few open looks.”

The Stags played a nearly perfect first half on the defensive end; they held the Tribe to just 13 points on 5-for-21 shooting. They also forced nine turnovers, turning those into seven points.

On the other end of the court, Fairfield was not as perfect on the offensive side, shooting just 30.8 percent. But their defensive excellence allowed them to take a 21-13 lead into the break.

The Stags stayed in control to start the second half, as they pulled ahead 32-19 with 13:23 to go in the game, outscoring William ‘ Mary 12-6. The Tribe went on a quick 6-0 run to cut the lead to 32-25 with 11:26 left, but that would be as close as they would come to catching the Stags.

Three point shooting was key for the Stags in the second half. After an alley-oop dunk by Anthony Johnson with 11:09 remaining in the game swung the momentum back to them, Fairfield scored on three pointers on four of its next five baskets, extending the lead to 48-36.

The Fairfield lead was cut to nine with 3:29 left in the game, at 51-42, but the Stags forced three straight turnovers and went on a 10-2 run over the final minutes to secure the victory.

“As a group we wanted to win. We looked at it as another chance to get better,” said O’Sullivan. “For some guys, its our last couple games and you want to play well in and out of conference, so we looked at it as a way to get better for Marist on Monday.”

“The [Marist game] is big for our seniors they always want to go out as winners,” said Cooley. “We want to finish up well heading into the tournament and do everything we can to secure a bye, which will be really important to win it overall. Our kids have great swagger, we are looking forward to it.”

Cooley sent a strong message to the Fairfield students and community, urging them to come out and support the team on its Senior Night against Marist on Monday.

“I feel Michael, Danny [Oglesby] and Marty deserve the best possible crowd they can,” Cooley said. “These kids have done an unbelievable job considering the circumstances we walked into. The fact that we have been able to win some games down the stretch is a credit to their leadership and I hope the people here appreciate that and come out and support our kids.”

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