Before a sold-out, raucous crowd on a night that was perhaps the most anticipated of the season by players and fans alike, the Stags’ men’s basketball team began what many called a “rebuilding year.”

It was Coach Ed Cooley’s first game, there were 13 new players and the Stags started three freshmen.

Needless to say, no one knew what to expect.

A few hours later the men’s team gave us much more than just a game; they gave us a classic.

In a thrilling double-overtime, the Stags lost to American University after the Eagles went on a 6-1 run in overtime, and Fairfield battled all night. The Stags’ comeback began in the later minutes of the extra period and culminated with Jonathan Han’s long-range three to send it into another quarter. Ultimately, it just wasn’t enough.

Disappointing? Hardly.

To say that Friday night’s loss at the reopened and better-than-ever Alumni Hall was a let-down is a pure misconception. With the way Ed Cooley’s men played on Friday evening, calling that game a disappointment could not be further from the truth.

The Fairfield men’s team, the preseason ninth ranked MAAC squad, gave a very experienced, senior-laden, heavily favored AU Eagles team, all they could handle and then some.

Through all of the tough calls and bad bounces, missed free throws and technical fouls, the Stags managed to come out aggressively, focused and prepared. As the game progressed, one outstanding characteristic could describe them: resilient.

The story of the game clearly belonged to the team’s outstanding effort that provided plenty of thrills and a newfound sense of optimism for the future of basketball at Fairfield.

It didn’t take much to realize the greater story that night; all of these amazing moments were happening in front of an incredible, energetic “Red Sea” at Alumni Hall, a place that had gone for too long without a jump shot.

It certainly was a night to remember.

Anthony Johnson’s dunk at the end of the first, Coach Cooley pumping up the crowd, Greg Nero’s unreal freshman debut, Jonathan Han’s game-tying three to send the game into double overtime; it all seemed a little unbelievable.

Sans a tough loss, it couldn’t have been scripted any better.

“I feel [the audience] willed us into the game when we fell behind. That was as loud of a place as I’ve played in, in a long time,” Cooley said.

One night later, it was the women’s turn. Attendance was listed at 1,388 for the women’s game but it looked like only around 100 or so students in the Red Sea.

In their history, the women’s team has never finished with a losing record in a season at Alumni, pure evidence of the strong student support for the team.

Head Coach Diane Nolan acknowledged that it is hard to get students for two straight games back-to-back, but she was pleased with the student section at the game.

She felt the students were vocal and their presence was felt.

“We are excited about coming back,” she remarked.

Despite losing efforts, there was plenty to feel good about. Both teams played with great pride and showed flashes of brilliance. They did so in a beloved, old gym in front of as excited a crowd that Fairfield has seen in years. These were the types of games that Alumni Hall deserved.

It wasn’t just what was expected; it was better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.