The Fairfield University men’s basketball team traveled to Piscataway, N.J. on Sunday, Oct. 30 to take part in an exhibition contest against Rutgers University to benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, an organization dedicated to curing spinal cord injuries to benefit Team LeGrand. All of the proceeds from the game were donated to the organization.

Playing in front of 2,000 fans at the Jersey Mike’s Arena, the Stags got their first taste of game action of the season by playing a competitive scrimmage against a Rutgers team coming off of an NCAA tournament appearance last season. Graduate-student guard Caleb Fields and forward Makai Willis ‘25 led the Stags as they fell to the Scarlet Knights, 78-65.

The Stags kept the game competitive by putting on a solid offensive performance. Fields led the herd in points with 13 while shooting five-for-ten from the field, with Willis giving himself 12 points and picking up six rebounds in the process. Other contributors included Brycen Goodine ‘23, who put up seven points, two steals, and two assists and redshirt-senior guard Jake Wojcik who picked up five rebounds, five points and two steals, according to the game’s official box score.

They kept the game competitive in the first half, entering halftime down by four, 35-31. The Stags at various periods were either tied or were down by fewer than two points, with the latest point in the half being at the 1:24 mark when Fields hit a jumper inside the paint to make it a 37-35 Rutgers lead.

The second half did not go as well for the Stags, being outscored 37-30 while the Scarlet Knights at one point went on a 10-0 run that essentially doomed any chance of the Stags pulling off the upset. Defense and turnovers hurt the Stags in this contest, with the Scarlet Knights outscoring the Stags in points off turnovers, 24-8, including a lopsided 19-5 margin in the second half.

Chris Maidoh ‘23 and Allan Jeanne-Rose ‘23 both agree that defensive play will be the primary focus in practice this week before the team’s next game against Wake Forest University on Monday, Nov. 7, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“We had a lot of turnovers, and we need to work on cutting those down,” Maidoh says. “Our defensive game will be our main focus at practice this week.”

“Defense is our main issue right now,” Jeanne-Rose explains. “We just need to get better at it.”

The two players did note that the season has not officially started and that they used this game as a way to gain experience from playing a team such as the Scarlet Knights.

“We’ve played a lot of challenging teams before, and it was good to get a feel for that again,” Maidoh says. “It was a good way to see where we’re at and where we stand. We know that there is a lot to improve on, and we are grateful for the opportunity.”

“It was a good test for us,” Jeanne-Rose elaborates. “Like Chris said, this game was the beginning to see where we are at and will give us a preview of what our competition looks like for next week. So, I guess it was a test for us.”

Head Coach Jay Young viewed this opportunity as a “dress rehearsal” for the Stags to hit the ground running on the season.

“We’ll be on a plane to Wake Forest at this time next week, and for us, it was a great dress rehearsal,” Young noted, according to the game’s official recap. “I liked a lot of what we did as far as going 11 guys deep and seeing everybody contribute against a talented, well-coached opponent. We still have a ton to work on, but we’ve got more answers than we’ve ever had, for sure.”

The game was much more than basketball, however. This game served as a way to raise money for spinal cord injuries and recoveries as well as honor former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, who became paralyzed in an October 2010 game against the United States Military Academy while trying to make a play. He suffered a spinal cord injury as a result.

LeGrand has since made an inspiring recovery, regaining movement in his shoulders and sensation throughout his body. He hasn’t been able to walk since the injury, but he vows to walk again sometime in the future.

A former protege of Rutgers Basketball head coach Steve Pikiell, Young collaborated with his former boss and LeGrand to make this event possible. Prior to taking the head coaching position with Fairfield in 2019, Young was an assistant to Pikiell for eleven seasons at Stony Brook and Rutgers.

When asked who was the real winner of the scrimmage, Young didn’t hesitate when giving an answer.

“The winner was decided before we took the court today, and that was Eric LeGrand and the Reeve Foundation,” said Head Coach Jay Young, according to “Eric is a great person and we’re honored to be a part of this game to help such a worthy cause.”

Maidoh and Jeanne-Rose were also grateful and honored to be a part of something special like this.

“It was really great to be a part of something like that,” Maidoh says. “You always want to give back to the community, and it was also a great way to raise money.”

Jeanne-Rose echoes these sentiments. 

“It’s a good cause,” Jeanne-Rose explains. “I’m very grateful to be a part of that. He [LeGrand] is an inspiration for all of us.”

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