By Dan Gardella
Fairfield – With March making its arrival, the Fairfield Stags acknowledged those who were about to play their last game at home.
On Friday night, Fairfield honored three seniors in Thomas Nolan, Matija Millin and Jonathan Kasibabu. In their careers, the trio were a part of two teams that competed in two CollegeInsider.com Tournaments (CIT) and reached a MAAC Tournament championship game.
While all three got the nod in the starting lineup, it was Kasibabu and Millin who stole the night, combining for 34 points as Fairfield won its second game in a row, knocking off Marist, 59-44
The Stags, who have struggled on the offensive end of the floor saw no issues executing early on. Following a slow start in which the Stags only put two points on the board in the first four minutes, they went on a 14-2 run over the next six minutes to open the lead to 16-4.
The points would all come from either Millin or Kasibabu. The pair combined to score the first 18 points of the contest for Fairfield and looked to be having a little extra magic on their special night.
Defensively, the Stags were stingy against the Red Foxes, who were still fighting for positioning within the conference. Their defense held Marist to only 20 points along with eight turnovers in the opening 20 minutes.
“We asked our team to buy in, in terms of effort,” said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson. “This is another team win. We had a great week of practice getting ready for Marist and St. Peter’s. They are giving me maximum effort.”
To open the second half, Millin, who was nearing NBA territory, fired up a contested three-pointer which found nothing but the bottom of the net.
The senior magic was in full effect.
The strong effort on the defensive carried into the early part of the second half, holding Marist scoreless for the first five and a half minutes of action. The Red Foxes would get their first points of the half on a basket inside from freshman Luke Nedrow. Nedrow would score on the next possession as well to cut the deficit to 15.
The Stags however, would respond on the other end with an old fashioned three-point play by Kasibabu to open the lead to 18.
After finally getting some shots to fall, Marist began to attempt to close the gap. The Red Foxes went on a 9-0 run near the midway point of the half to close the deficit to nine.
They continued their hot shooting and before Sydney Johnson and company knew it, he was calling timeout with their lead down to six with eight minutes to play.
But who better to go back to than your senior leader.
With the score 45-39, Kasibabu picked up the loose ball, passed it ahead to Taj Benning who gave it back to the forward who put it in, finally giving the crowd something to cheer about.
The Red Foxes would rally again to cut the lead to five before Kasibabu would create five points of his own, scoring from down low and making a pretty pass to Landon Taliaferro, who would knock down a huge three-pointer to open the lead to 10 with two minutes to play.
That would be all it took for Fairfield to hold off the Red Foxes and grab their sixth conference win of the season.
Kasibabu recorded yet another double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds while Millin scored 12 points and grabbed 5 rebounds.
For Kasibabu, it was the perfect ending to a seemingly short four years.
“This was special,” said Kasibabu. “You realize how fast this goes. I remember when me and Matija (Millin) first got on campus and we came to this very court to shoot.”
Last season, Fairfield entered Albany and the MAAC Tournament winners of six of their last nine games. This season, the team has a chance to begin the tournament next week winners of three in a row if they can take care of business against St. Peter’s, a team they have already beaten this year. With that in mind, Johnson looks to the guard play to be the biggest factor.
“For this team, it’s been a lot about growth,” said Johnson. “I think Taj (Benning) and Neftali (Alvarez) are leading us as much as anyone else.”
PHOTO: : Jonathan Kasibabu/fairfieldstags.com