The Fairfield University men’s basketball team faced Iona University in an electric conference opener at the Leo D. Mahoney Arena last Friday, Dec. 1. After a neck-to-neck battle for the majority of the game, the Gaels pulled away with a 78-67 win.
Despite their loss, Fairfield put on a great display of determination and discipline when facing the Gaels. There was a noticeable pattern of eager rebounds, to which guard Louis Bleechmore ‘24, forward Peyton Smith ‘27 and guard James Johns Jr ‘26 each had five. Guard Jasper Floyd ‘25 contributed 17 points while going 8-for-12 and guard Jalen Leach ‘24 added on 12 himself. Another highlight of the night came from graduate student guard Caleb Fields, who had a season high of 21 points, 12 of which came from three-pointers.
Entering the arena, fans knew that the Stags needed to play their best game in order to come away with a win, and the opening half was indicative of the Stags being capable of doing just that. Iona stayed at just two points during the first five minutes of play, yet Fairfield failed to capitalize and could only come up with a 6-2 lead in that window.
The student section was energetic as ever at the display of matched talent, and it quickly became obvious that it would be a close game up until the final horn. By the middle of the half, it was tied 13-13 following a three-pointer from Johns. Fairfield then managed to pull away again with a lead of 18-17, but Iona kept pressure on and managed to end the half on top with a 35-31 advantage.
Floyd’s layup and a triple from Fields started the second half, reclaiming the lead. However, the Stags were quickly met with a 10-2 run from Iona to push past Fairfield, causing the scoreboard to read 45-38.
Both teams kept scoring while Iona remained on top, but the Stags pulled away after a 6-0 run to make things close, narrowing the gap to a 52-49 Iona lead with just over nine minutes left. The Gaels, however, expanded upon their lead again after a few minutes of play, making things 70-54 with 3:14 left on the clock. Ultimately, it was 78-67 after a valiant effort to lessen the gap from Fairfield that just wasn’t enough.
Iona’s noteworthy offensive work came from guard Wheza Panzo, who had 23 points and a 7-for-13 record for three-pointers.
When recounting the loss, Interim Head Coach Chris Casey noted the missed chances that could’ve changed the trajectory of the game.
“We needed to make a few more shots and grab a few more rebounds tonight. I thought we got a good number of decent looks; if we make those and make our free throws, we could have given ourselves a chance to play from in front and dictate more of the game,” Casey said, according to the official press release. He also highlighted the defensive work from the Stags. “We did well defensively on everybody except Panzo. You know he’s going to get a couple, but we missed some switches and left him open too many times.”
Fairfield returned to action with a game against Rider University on Dec. 3 that was the first of three away. The Stags came out on top with 88-81 against the Broncs, improving their MAAC record to 1-1.
The Stags return to Leo D. Mahoney Arena on Saturday, Dec. 17 against Wagner with a 2 p.m. tip-off.