by Dan Gardella
Bridgeport – Coming off of a commanding 19-point victory over then second place Niagara last Saturday, Fairfield University looked to do the same to Rider University, a team currently second in the MAAC. The Broncs took it to the Stags back on January 5th, holding the Stags to 39% shooting from the field in a 96-77 win.
This win did not come as easy as it did three weeks ago. Down six with four minutes to play Rider stepped up defensively, holding Fairfield scoreless while going on an 8-0 run to stun the Stags 90-88 in front of 1,137 at Webster Bank Arena Tuesday night.
Unlike the first meeting between the teams, Fairfield and Rider exchanged punches throughout the entire game. Starting the game down 6-5 two and a half minutes into the game, the Stags responded with an 8-2 run over the next three minutes to give them a 13-8 lead five minutes in. Rider scored 18 of the next 25 points, ten of which coming from Devine Eke and Jordan Allen.
As they game remained evenly-matched, Fairfield closed with half with poor clock management. With 35 seconds left in the half, the Stags drained the clock and finished the possession with a long, contested three by Tyler Nelson which led to a layup by Anthony Durham on the other end to give the Broncos a 45-42 lead at the break.
Out of the locker room, Fairfield knotted it at 45 on a three by Jesus Cruz half a minute into the half. Cruz’s three began a 12-5 run over the next three minutes of the second frame to give Fairfield a 54-50 lead. The Stags shot the lights out the first ten minutes out of the locker room, nailing seven of their first nine three point attempts in the half and getting strong production from the bench. Freshmen Wassef Methnani and Taj Benning playing crucial minutes down the stretch.
For Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson, the production from the freshmen is a testament to their development.
“Guys are game ready.” said Johnson “Our practices have prepared these guys well. I think they are looking to follow the lead of the older guys and try to get some mesh together so we can get some wins in the conference.”
Rider however would not go away, answering every Fairfield basket with one of their own. After a free throw by Frederick Scott gave Rider an 80-79 lead, Fairfield would score the next nine points, putting them up eight with four minutes to go.
In Rider head coach Kevin Baggett’s eyes, his team did not waiver.
“We just talked to our guys about being patient, understanding that they were going to play through Tyler (Nelson).” said Baggett. “We were taking some tough jump shots. We wanted to go inside and try and get the clock slowed down a little bit and get to the free throw line. I thought we did a good job of that.”
The Broncs attacked the basket at will in the last four minutes, with their last eight points coming from the inside.
It was clock management again that plagued the Stags, forcing three three-pointers in a row, allowing Rider to get easy fast break opportunities.
With under a minute left, Tyler Nelson missed a jump shot, giving Rider the ball with 40 seconds left on the clock. After running it down to the final second, the Broncos’ Dimencio Vaughn missed and rebounded his shot to put it back in to give the Broncos a 90-88 lead. With a two-point Rider lead and eight seconds remaining, Fairfield called a timeout to set up a play looking to send the game into overtime.
Out of the timeout, a scrum of players bunched up resulted in the Stags’ Tyler Nelson drawing the foul. He stepped to the line with a chance to send the game to an extra five minutes. Nelson, who had made 34 straight free throws and was ranked in the top 20 in the country in free throw percentage left the first shot short. After intentionally missing the second one, Vaughn grabbed the rebound and sealed the comeback win for Rider, their third in a row.
Fairfield was led by Nelson, who recorded his first double-double on the year by scored a game-high 24 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
Jordan Allen led four Broncs in double figures with 19 points along with 5 rebounds.
The Stags (7-12) (2-6 MAAC) travel to Nassau Coliseum for a neutral site matchup with Quinnipiac Saturday afternoon.
Rider (14-7) (7-2 MAAC) return to New Jersey to welcome in St. Peter’s Friday evening.