They say basketball is a game of inches, and the Fairfield University women’s basketball team knows that cliché all too well. The Stags fell short of an upset bid on Sunday as the 5 time MAAC champion Red Foxes of Marist College escaped with a 54-52 win at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard. The loss snaps Fairfield’s five game conference winning streak and drops their record to 15-8 and 8-4 in the MAAC.
Fairfield knew entering this battle that they would need to perform at their highest level if they were to take down the Goliath of the conference. After all, Marist is a team who supports the nation’s second longest active winning streak of 17 games and is the newest addition to the national top 25 polls standing at #25. And they did. Fairfield could have knocked them off. They just couldn’t deliver the final blow.
“It hurts,” Coach Joe Frager said after the game. “If one of our shots fall, one of theirs doesn’t we’re jumping up and down in the locker room right now…it wasn’t meant to be.”
The team witnessed all their hopes and desires of becoming the first MAAC team to defeat Marist all year, come crashing down off the rim as their two three point attempts in the final seconds fell short.
“There’s no words that can take away the pain that they feel right now,” Frager said.
Sophomore forward Brittany MacFarlane said, “I thought we played a great game from start to finish. It definitely hurts because it was so close,”
The team must have felt disappointment when Corielle Yarde’s layup with 27.7 seconds gave Marist the eventual win, and definitely experienced heartbreak after leaving the court to a dull applause, not the loud roar they anticipated considering that they were leading for most of the game. But this close defeat did give them something useful: the reassurance that they are getting better.
“I think we’re growing as a basketball team,” Frager said. “The thing I liked about today’s effort is that we had different kids step up and give us contribution that they couldn’t two or three weeks ago.”
The Stags were aware that they were matched against a team that has been dominating the MAAC. Marist, #25, had defeated their conference foes by an average of 26.2 points in their first 11 games. Nevertheless, they remained unafraid and prepared for the contest expecting a win.
“Coach told us all week that we’re the only team who can really come close to beating them so we had confidence that we can beat them,” MacFarlane said.
With all the dominating stats that could be endlessly repeated regarding Marist: 25th best team in the country, 2nd longest active winning streak, and leading the conference in 13 separate categories, only one basket separated Fairfield from this overriding power.
“Our staff is really proud of our kids,” Frager said. “Our locker room was really quiet. I know how much they wanted this game. I think it’s going to take them 24 hours to objectively look at this game.”
Now that the immediate time table has passed and the squad has had the opportunity to cool off, they can relax and reflect on the many positives of this effort. Holding the best offensive team in the MAAC to 38 percent shooting, forcing 12 turnovers against the nation’s best squad in that department, and becoming the first MAAC team to outrebound Marist is not an easy feat.
“You need to be really, really, really, really good to beat Marist and we were one away,” Frager said.
“If anything, I hope that instilled some confidence in our young kids that we can compete.” The two point loss in a regular season game has added the hope that they can finally pull off the upset come tournament time.
“We’re probably going to end up playing them [come tournament time] I think it’s great for confidence,” MacFarlane said.
With the tournament in your home building, everything becomes different. The buzz and passion becomes louder as it resonates through the wide areas of the Arena, bouncing off the hopefully packed bleachers. The urgency increases knowing that every game and every decision counts. The anticipation builds through every hallow dribble. And the Fairfield Unviersity women’s basketball team hopes that when all those elements line up: the results will be different.