by Dan Gardella
Bridgeport – Collected, confident and mature. These were just a few of the ways to describe Fairfield University’s play over the past week. After starting conference play 2-7, the Stags entered Webster Bank Arena winners of two straight high intensity games. They welcomed in the banged-up Siena Saints, who came in tied for last in the MAAC.
The Stags were able to use the Saints’ injuries to their advantage along with a locked in defense to cruise to a 78-65 win over Siena for their third straight victory.
The Stags scored the first six points of the game and held Siena without a point for the first six minutes. However, Fairfield managed to shoot 33% in that span, allowing the Saints to hang close. Siena did not allow Fairfield to run away amid the cold shooting and managed to tie the game at 24 on an Ahsante Shivers layup with 3:34 left in the first half.
Siena would tie it up again at 28 with 1:26 left and looked to have the momentum. From that point on, Fairfield would score five of the last seven points of the half, highlighted by a Jesus Cruz coast to coast layup at the buzzer to give the Stags a three-point lead heading into the locker room.
Out of the halftime break, Ferron Flavors Jr. would knock down a three pointer on the Stags’ first possession to open the lead to six. Flavors Jr., who had three points on 1-7 shooting in the first half nailed three shots from downtown in the first five and a half minutes of the second half, the last one to give Fairfield a double-digit lead with 14:28 to play.
“My teammates know I can shoot really well so they tell me to keep shooting. I just keep shooting regardless of the game because in order for us to win they need me to shoot the ball. I felt good.” said Flavors Jr. who finished with 13 points in the second half and 16 for the game.
Following Flavors Jr.’s hot start from deep, freshman Wassef Methnani provided a spark off the bench while junior Jonathan Kasibabu struggled with foul trouble all night. Methnani scored seven of the teams next ten points in a 10-4 run that kept the lead at ten with 13 minutes to play.
The Stags finally began to pull away following Methnani’s spark, led by the leader of Fairfield. Tyler Nelson became the next Stag to light up the net, scoring ten of the teams next eleven points to give them a 63-50 lead with nine minutes to play. In the final nine minutes, both teams would score 15 points to give Fairfield the 13-point victory.
Depth was the story once again for Fairfield, who had nine players score and featured eight different players logging double-digit minutes.
For Stags head coach Sydney Johnson, the difference was the impact of the new faces to the team.
“Our first-year guys are starting to get it. They’ve always been talented, they’ve always worked hard, they’ve been inexperienced. So now they are going through the ups and downs, they are understanding the intensity of it, they are understanding ‘Listen, if we don’t execute here, here, and here, we’re going to get beat.’ So, they had to go through some mistakes on their own. They are starting to get it.”
In Tyler Nelson’s eyes, the Stags’ difficult non-conference schedule that has gotten the team to bond.
“It’s definitely paid off going through the early season struggles or whatever you want to call it. But it’s definitely made us closer and it’s paid off the last few games.”
Nelson, who finished with a game-high 27 points passed Fairfield great Joe DeSantis and now sits second on Fairfield’s all-time scoring list, just 65 points away from Tony George’s 2,006 points for the most in Stag’s history.
Amid the struggles, injuries and defeats, Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos is pleased with his team’s effort.
“I’m never satisfied with losing, but we were down three at halftime and we came out and fell asleep on (Ferron) Flavors. They’re going to make threes. We just can’t seem to get enough consistency from everyone. We need six out of seven playing, not four out of seven. But we’re fighting, we’re playing hard, we have good energy and guys want to win.” said Patsos.
The Saints (7-18) (3-9 MAAC) conclude their two-game road trip against Canisius on Thursday evening.
Fairfield (10-13) (5-7 MAAC) looks to keep their winning streak alive as they make the trip to Buffalo to face off with Niagara on Saturday.