On Friday night, Stags head coach Ed Cooley was all smiles. He praised his players for their effort, leadership and determination following a 76-56 blowout of St. Peter’s.

But it was a different story on Sunday afternoon. Cooley never cracked a hint of a smile, despite his team’s 78-76 victory over Iona, putting them in first place in the Metro Atlantic Conference after the first weekend of conference play.

‘We showed a lack of leadership and we showed a lack of confidence,’ Cooley said. ‘We won on pure talent. We made mistakes on talent and we won on talent.’

Despite the fact that Cooley’s squad almost let the lead slip away in the game’s final five minutes, the Stags still managed a victory. It took a three-pointer by sophomore forward Warren Edney with just under four seconds left in the game, but unlike in previous years, Fairfield walked away with a win in a close game.

‘We got lucky, but good teams make their own luck,’ Cooley said. ‘I’ve been there in that locker room where Iona is now after a loss.’

Fairfield (6-3, 2-0 MAAC) held a 10-point lead with 5:41 remaining in the game, before nearly handing the game to the Gaels by shooting only 2-for-7 from the free-throw line in the final five minutes.

With the win, the Stags are off to their best start since the 2004-05 season, when former head coach Tim O’Toole led his squad to a 7-1 start, but with the early success comes a shift in attitude for Fairfield.

‘I don’t think we played smart in the second half and we took for granted that we had the lead,’ said senior guard Jon Han. ‘Last year we were like Iona was [in this game] coming back in the second half and now if we are going to be up in games we need to sustain the lead and push it up.’

Fairfield has had many more players turn in strong contributions then in Cooley’s first two seasons, when his team often relied on one scorer.

This year all five members of the starting lineup (Han, Edney, Herbie Allen ’09, Greg Nero ’10 and Anthony Johnson ’10) are averaging at least 10 points per game. Cooley has been pleased with they way his starters have opened up early leads, including a 20-3 lead against St. Peter’s that started with a 14-0 run.

‘I thought right out of the box we answered the bell right away,’ said Cooley after the St. Peter’s victory. ‘I can’t tell you how pleased I’ve been with the way we practiced and the way we are approaching game situations.
‘We definitely have a veteran group led by [our seniors].’

Han has continued to lead the way, scoring a team-high 20 points against Iona and also a team-high 11 against St. Peter’s. He leads all MAAC players in assists per game with 6.2 per game, which is also the 20th best average in the nation.

Fairfield’s defense has been strong, aside from its game against Iona. Cooley said that he believes his team’s strength is shutting down top scorers like St. Peter’s Wesley Jenkins, who came in averaging 18.9 points per game and scored just five.

‘Were we concentrating on him? Yes. But at the same time it’s a team effort, a defensive effort concentrated on their leading scorers. I think it’s working – their main guns aren’t getting off against us,’ Cooley said.

The Stags take a break from conference play for the rest of the month and will play three non-conference games before traveling to Siena on Jan. 1 for one of the biggest MAAC games of the season.

But first Fairfield has a chance to continue its strong non-conference season with games at Fordham (Dec. 11) and at home against Drexel on Dec.14. Then, the Stags take a trip to Hartford to play in-state rival Connecticut on Dec. 26.

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