Three Thoughts: Fairfield 71, Central Connecticut 63

Fairfield won the first game of the Connecticut 6 at Quinnipiac’s TD Bank Sports Center, beating Central Connecticut 71-63. Here are three thoughts from that game.

Marcus Gilbert helped carry the Stags to their sixth straight season opening victory. (photo courtesy: Stockton Photo)

Marcus Gilbert confirmed his status as one of the MAAC’s top offensive threats with a 21 point performance complete with eight rebounds and four assists. The junior guard averaged 13.9 ppg and 5.1 rpg for a young Stags team in the 2013-14 season and looks prepared to lead this year’s team to success.

“The thing I love about Marcus is slow starts or shaky stretches don’t deter him,” head coach Sydney Johnson said. “As a freshman, he would kind of pull back and go into his shell. This year he’s becoming the guy, so a turnover here or a couple of missed shots there doesn’t bother him. His confidence is high, his belief in his talents is high, and we certainly want to keep it that way.”

Gilbert was selected to the preseason All-MAAC third team. Although he only scored four second-half points, Gilbert should continue to rank among the Stags’ leading scorers night in and night out.

Matt Mobley capable of filling in for Kyle Vinales. With star senior Kyle Vinales on indefinite suspension from team activities, sophomore guard Matt Mobley filled stepped up in a big way. On a night where senior Malcolm McMillan struggled for much of the game, Mobley set a new career-high with 30 points.  That sort of offensive output is what the Blue Devils would normally expect from Vinales, but they will need all their gears turning in order to come out ahead.

“Matt had a great first scrimmage,” head coach Howie Dickenman said. “He lit it up. He was 6-7 from three. Then we went down to Stony Brook and he struggled. He was like 1-6, but they’re a very good defensive team. He had a very loose practice yesterday. He was on a high and I think it just carried over to today.”

Fairfield’s frontcourt will have plenty of ups and downs. In addition to Marcus Gilbert’s big night, three other Stags finished the night in double figures.  Coleman Johnson ended the night second on the team with 17 points while K.J. Rose contributed 10 of his own. Amadou Sidibe notched a double double with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

“Amadou had a slow start to the season last year,” said Johnson. “He is our lone captain, he’s vocal, he’s a terrific young man and it’s great to see him enjoying the game. Last year at this time he wasn’t enjoying it as much. He was hurt, and now he’s healthy and having fun with it.”

Still, Fairfield struggled in the foul department. The Stags allowed CCSU to get into the bonus with over eight minutes left in the game. This allowed the Blue Devils to climb back into the game and pull within two inside the final four minutes.

“I think it’s just the game now,” Johnson said of his teams being overly aggressive. “You’ve got to get your hands up and out and our guys shouldn’t have to make the adjustment during the game, but the rules are supposed to facilitate offense during the game, and I think they’re doing that. We can’t moan and cry about it, we’ve got to make the adjustments. I think we started better today than we did last year where we we’re putting people to the line 20-30 times a game.”

Both Fairfield and CCSU face major opponents in their next matchups. The Stags board a plane at LaGuardia in an hour to play fourth ranked Duke in a few hours to complete the rare Blue Devil back-to-back. CCSU also heads south to take on Maryland on Monday.

Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac and the MAAC for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.

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