After a disheartening 7-25 season last year, the Fairfield men’s basketball team enjoyed a 74-67 win over the University of Bridgeport in an exhibition game to prepare for the season ahead.

The key to this game was the three-pointer for Fairfield. Throughout the game, the Stags took a total of 21 shots from behind the arc, making 13 of them.

“When the ball goes in, it’s three points to their two points,” said Head Coach Sydney Johnson. “It’s such a big shot in college basketball. We like the guys who were taking them and we’re going to rely on them a lot to make them and obviously when they go in, it helps us a ton.”

Junior Marcus Gilbert hit a team-high five 3-pointers and was the game-high scorer with 22 points. Among other sharpshooters were Steve Johnston ’15 who went 4-4 from three-point range and ended with 16 points, and transfer Mike Kirkland Jr. who ended with 13 points in his first Fairfield appearance.

“I think we’re going to play through Marcus [Gilbert] and Mike [Kirkland] first, and then we just have to do our jobs,” said Johnston about the leading scorers. “If they kick it out to me, I have to knock it down. We’re going to play team ball.”

On the other end, the Purple Knights only shot 37.3 percent from the field, and 28.6 percent from behind the three-point arc.

The Stags saw a couple of changes to their starting lineup from last year to this, as Johnston and Kirkland hit the court along with K.J. Rose ’17, Marcus Gilbert and captain Amadou Sidibe ’16, all starters from last year.

“We’ve got some guys who went through it last year who are more experienced and I think they can put the best foot forward for Fairfield,” said Johnson. “As we go, you might see a couple more guys in the rotation, but right now we’re at about eight, maybe nine.”

Fairfield got off to a bit of a slow start, but turned up the intensity quickly. Though both teams were stagnant in the early minutes, the Purple Knights got on a 5-0 run early, and led 10-5 about seven minutes into the first half.

At this point, a timeout was called and the Stags came out firing from then on out. After a couple of buckets from Jerome Segura ‘18 and some solid three-point shooting form Johnston, the Stags found themselves on a run of their own and tied the game at 12-12 by the middle of the half.

After some more timely buckets from Rose, Kirkland and Johnston, the Stags found themselves with a strong 27-18 lead with about five minutes remaining in the first half.

By this time, Fairfield was in the bonus and Bridgeport was having a tough time putting the ball in the net. In the first half, the Purple Knights went just 8-31 from the field, shooting a poor 25.8 percent. Also, the team struggled from behind the arc, making just 1 of 8 attempted three-pointers. All in all, at the end of the half, the Stags saw themselves ahead at a score of 36-22.

“Whenever we drove, the defense collapsed and we’d just kick it out, make the right passes at the right times,” said Marcus Gilbert about the strong first half. “It ends up in wide open shots and all we have to do is knock them down.”

To start off the second half, both teams exchanged buckets in the opening minutes. However, the Stags soon opened up the floodgates. A barrage of three-pointers sent both the Stags and the crowd to complete excitement and hurrah.

Marcus Gilbert, Johnston, Kirkland and Rose continued to connect on three-pointers, pushing the Fairfield lead to 53-39 with about 11 minutes remaining in the game.

However, Bridgeport was quick to stop the three-pointer from working for the Stags and start generating some offense of their own. They held the Stags scoreless for about three minutes and scored two buckets in that stretch. The Purple Knights continued to penetrate the lane and find good shooting spots to carve into Fairfield’s lead.

Bridgeport’s Devon Elliott led the Purple Knight offense with a total of 18 points, most of them coming in the second half. With about five minutes left in the game, the lead was narrowed down to just 62-50 Fairfield.

Additionally, the Stags found themselves fouling often in the half, allowing 19 free throws of which Bridgeport made 14. The Purple Knights were in the bonus early, and took advantage of the free-throw line.

“We had a lack of energy coming out in the second half,” said Marcus Gilbert.

“The first four minutes are crucial coming out of the half, and we messed up coming out and there was no energy,” said Johnston.

With about two minutes remaining, the Stags now led 68-60. Luckily, Malcolm Gilbert ‘15 used his size in the paint to get his team some insurance points. He scored six points in the last few minutes, leading Fairfield to a final, winning score of 74-67.

Though the Stags looked slow at the end of the second half, Johnson liked what he saw out of his team and holds his head high for the season ahead.

“I’m really happy for these guys,” said Johnson. “They’re not quite in the grind of conference play or things like that for the long season, but I’m really happy.”

The Fairfield men’s basketball team will officially open their 2014-15 season on Nov. 14 when they play Central Connecticut State University as part of the Connecticut 6 Classic.

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