by Dan Gardella
Bridgeport – Following their win against Siena a week and a half ago, the Fairfield Stags sat at 5-7 in conference with momentum heading into their annual trip to Buffalo. Fast forward a week later, the Stags returned home after dropping both games on their road trip and needing a win to help them climb in the MAAC standings.
They welcomed Marist to Webster Bank Arena. Although entering the contest 3-11 in conference play, the Red Foxes took down Fairfield 95-89 in overtime in their first meeting on January 13th. This time around however, it would take a game-high 29 points from Tyler Nelson and clutch free throws to help the Stags take down Marist 83-79 in front of 1,191 Thursday night.
After Fairfield jumped out to a quick 5-2 lead a minute into the game, Marist countered with five straight points capped off by a Ryan Funk three pointer to give Marist a 7-5 lead with 17:20 to play in the first. The Red Foxes would hold onto the lead for the next five minutes until Jerome Segura scored five points in a 7-2 spurt to give Fairfield the lead, 19-18 with 12 minutes to play.
Marist responded with an Austin Williams layup on the following possession to re-take the lead from the Stags. Fairfield answered by scoring six of the following seven points to give the Stags a 24-20 lead. Fairfield would stretch the lead out to as much as eight in the opening frame but headed to the locker room leading 38-32 at the half.
Out of the half, Marist managed to cut the six-point halftime lead in half within the first 24 seconds of the half. With the score at 38-35, freshman Wassef Methnani scored six of the next eight points for the Stags to open the lead back to six. Methnani earned the start due to junior Jonathan Kasibabu being sidelined with the flu.
The Stags would manage to stretch the lead to double digits four separate times in the span of eight minutes including holding a 71-59 lead with 6:32 remaining. With the Stags holding a nine-point lead with a minute to play, Marist refused to go away easily, scoring five points in 30 seconds to cut the lead to four with 28 seconds to play.
Two pairs of free throws with a Lasse Gummerus layup in between brought the Fairfield lead to 81-75 with 16 seconds remaining. Marist would get a quick bucket from Ryan Parker to cut the lead to four. On the ensuing possession, sophomore Aidas Kavaliauskas would turn the ball over setting up another Parker layup to trim the deficit to two.
“Our guys have been doing that all year. We’ve only won five games, but our guys give maximum effort” said Marist head coach Mike Maker when asked about the comeback.
With five seconds to play, Ferron Flavors Jr. would knock down a pair of free throws to seal the win for the Stags.
After pulling out a win against them last meeting, there were many things that were different the second time around in Maker’s eyes.
“I thought we had more energy to us the first time we played them. We also didn’t have Brian Parker last time. Today we also had more balance.” said Maker.
The Red Foxes had five players score in double figures for the second time this season. Also for the second time this season, Marist lost a game in which five players score in double figures for them.
With Kasibabu and fellow junior Matija Millin also sidelined with the flu, Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson turned to his freshmen in hopes of getting production. The freshmen trio of Methnani, Kevin Peterson, and Omar El-Sheikh combined for 14 points, 6 rebounds along with a pair of blocks.
“Wassef (Methnani) is a kid that came here and wanted to start from day one. So, he wasn’t going to be overwhelmed by the moment. Kevin (Peterson) has had phenomenal practices these last couple of weeks so they were ready to play. We were going to give them that moment and rely on the other guys to help them out.” said Johnson. “As a committee, we think we are really deep. I’m just glad that I have young guys who even if this is their first go through, they are not nervous.”
With the win, Fairfield keeps pace with Quinnipiac and Manhattan who sit at a tie for sixth place in the conference and are a game ahead of Fairfield. With two of the Stag’s last three games at home, this is a perfect situation in senior Tyler Nelson’s eyes.
“These last couple of games are winnable. We are just trying to take it one game at a time and get the win. We know whatever happens, we are just trying to put ourselves in the best position come MAAC Tournament time and try and get that five seed.” Said Nelson.
Fairfield (11-15) (6-9 MAAC) face Quinnipiac Saturday afternoon in a game with plenty of MAAC seeding implications of the line.
Marist (5-22) (3-12 MAAC) head back to Poughkeepsie to take on St. Peter’s in hopes of snapping their five-game losing streak.