The Fairfield University men’s basketball program, like most other Division I basketball programs across the country, have begun a season of uncertainty in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Stags have been fortunate enough to have only one contest canceled so far, a Sunday, Nov. 29 game against cross-town rival Sacred Heart University. This past week, Fairfield played two games, hoping to reverse an 0-1 start to the season after a 97-56 loss to Providence College in the season opener. The Stags looked to bounce back against the University of Hartford and Stony Brook University, which are contests that at face value could be seen as 50/50 ball games.
Fairfield Stags vs. Hartford Hawks, Dec. 2
The Stags opened the game strong, and the first half remained very competitive. The half featured eight lead changes, with the Stags heading to the locker room with a 28-26 advantage. The second half proved to be much more of a challenge, and Fairfield fell all the way down to a 48-37 deficit with 11 minutes and 13 seconds left to play. The Stags worked to mount a comeback, even tying the game at 53 apiece with a little under six minutes left to play. Hartford pulled away shortly after the tying 3-point field goal by Fairfield guard Taj Benning ‘21, and the Hawks managed to hold the lead for the remainder of the game. Fairfield was defeated 66-61, falling to 0-2 on the season. Benning finished the game with 13 points, including three, 3-point field goals, while first-year forward Supreme Cook added 13 points and seven rebounds. Senior forward Jesus Cruz finished with a double-double (10 pts, 11 reb), and guard Caleb Green ‘22 led the Stags with 15 points. Hartford guard Moses Flowers ‘24 led all scorers with 20 pts. Fairfield hung tough, but free throw shooting (63%) and turnovers (16) proved to be their undoing.
Final: Hartford Hawks 66, Fairfield Stags 61.
Fairfield Stags vs. Stony Brook Seawolves, Dec. 4
In their second game of the week, the Stags traveled to Stony Brook, NY to take on the Seawolves. Once again, the Stags came out of the gate strong, jumping out to a 15-5 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half. The Seawolves were able to chip away, eventually bringing it within 3 just before the half’s end. Fairfield went into halftime leading the home team 29-26. Benning led the Stags at the half with nine points. The second half saw the game remain tightly contested, the largest lead of the half being a five point difference (42-36 in favor of Stony Brook). The game came right down to the wire, with Fairfield leading 62-58 with a little more than two minutes left to play. However, turnovers once again proved costly, as three straight Stag turnovers led to the Seawolves tying the game at 62 apiece. In overtime, the contest remained a one possession game until a small Stony Brook run saw them push the lead to 72-66. Fairfield guard Jalen Leach ‘24 nailed a three-point jumper with 30 seconds remaining, but the field goal proved to be too little, too late. The Stags fell 72-69 in overtime, dropping to an 0-3 overall record. Cruz led all Fairfield scorers with 18 points, and Leach added 13 points off the bench. For the Seawolves, guard Juan Felix Rodriguez ‘22 led with 21 points on 7-19 shooting. The Stags shot 40% from the field in the road loss, and once again struggled to keep the turnovers to a minimum (20 TO).
Final (OT): Stony Brook Seawolves 72, Fairfield Stags 69
Fairfield Stags vs. Hartford Hawks, Dec. 7
In a rematch of last Wednesday’s tight contest, the Stags looked to avenge the loss and came out firing right out of the gate, leading for the majority of the first half. Hartford began to gain some momentum, even taking a four point lead with 1 minute and 22 seconds left to play in the first half. The Stags were unfazed, taking off on a 7-0 run to end the half, including an electric dunk fromBenning. Fairfield would go into the half leading 30-27. The second half remained a dogfight, with both teams scoring on back and forth possessions, but the Stags would eventually see their lead slip away at around the 10 minute mark, and the Hawks would never let them back in it. Fairfield would then be outscored 28-16 in the last 10 minutes, falling by a final score of 67-54.
Cruz led all scorers with 16 points, and Benning added 12 points and six boards. Traci Carter ‘21 paced the Hawks (3-2) with 15 points and six assists. The Stags managed to mitigate the turnovers a bit compared to their previous contests (12 TO) but shot a mere 18% from behind the arc.
Final: Hartford Hawks 67, Fairfield Stags 54
The Stags may have started the season with a record of 0-4, but it is not entirely indicative of their performance as a team. Both losses this past week came down to the last few possessions, and the defense has looked quite promising.The Stags just need to focus on holding onto games after strong first half showings. Senior leaders Cruz and Benning have performed very well so far, and the Stags have gotten valuable production from newcomers such as Green, Cook, and Leach. Make no mistake about it: this Stags squad has the potential to be a winning team. The talent is there, and the defense has looked strong so far. If the Stags can make an effort to limit team turnovers, and convert more efficiently on the offensive end, they will be in great shape going forward. The season is still young after all; there is plenty of time for this talented squad to turn things around.