Three Thoughts: Fairfield 60, Marist 54

To call K.J. Rose’s shooting in the last few games a slump may not really do it justice. A famine, maybe? Since a 26-point outburst on 9-16 from the field in an overtime loss to Bucknell on Dec. 1, the Fairfield sophomore had made just seven of his last 37 shots heading into Friday’s game with Marist over a seven-game span that saw his minutes start to dwindle almost in perfect correlation to freshman Jerome Segura’s increasing.

Friday didn’t really start much better for Rose, he had missed his first five shots as the Stags were struggling mightily at home with a Marist team that was just 1-15 (although the Red Foxes had a full cast of characters for the first time since Opening Night).

Fairfield freshman Tyler Nelson finished this transition layup to give the Stags some distance late against Marist.
Fairfield freshman Tyler Nelson finished this transition layup to give the Stags some distance late against Marist.

But Sydney Johnson stuck with Rose in the second half Friday, and four minutes left and Fairfield clinging to a 47-45 lead, Rose picked the pocket of Marist star Chevaughn Lewis, dove to pick up the loose ball, stumbled to his feet while keeping a dribble, and then laid the ball in at the other end, a pure hustle play that brought the Fairfield bench and Webster Bank Arena crowd to its feet. It would be his only field goal of the night, but it was when his team needed him most as Fairfield held off a completely healthy Marist, 60-54, in Bridgeport.

“I’m just a competitor,” Rose said. “I do whatever it takes to help my team. I’ve been struggling shooting, but I’m going to keep working on it, but I’m just going to do what it takes to get my team a win. I lead the team in assists, that’s my strength. I’m not much of a scorer, although if they give it to me, I’ll take it.”

Here are my thoughts from Webster Bank Arena, where Fairfield had a nice crowd (2,305) on Lucas the Stag’s birthday:

1. Marist will probably be heard from soon – Let’s not overstate the matter and say the Red Foxes (1-16, 0-7) will be a factor in the MAAC race or anything, but the finally had Chevaughn Lewis (who entered third nationally in usage rate), Khallid Hart, and T.J. Curry on the floor together for the first time since Opening Night. You add in Eric Truog – who can step out and hit shots at 6’9” – and Phillip Lawrence- averaging double figures and a solid shooter – and it’s not the 335th most efficient offense in the country. First-year coach Mike Maker was in the process of trying to put in a new offensive scheme (a Princeton-ish offense, but probably closer to what John Beilein runs at Michigan) when all the injuries happened, and now kind of has to start over. But you saw glimpses of it Friday.

“It’s almost like we’ve lost a couple months,” Maker said. “It almost feels like November for our staff. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well from three, although I thought we had some good looks. I don’t think we were as disciplined around the goal defensively as we needed to be. Credit Sydney’s team, he’s done a great job, but we’re just trying to build. We gave our team a chance to win, but we’re not quite there yet. I think it’s going to take us until February to get our legs under us, our wind, our rhythm, timing, all those things.”

2. Records don’t lie, though. Or do they?  – Whether you think they’re good or not, the Stags (6-11, 4-3) have a winning record in the MAAC, and matched last year’s conference win total with the victory on Friday. The Stags made 10 of their first 14 shots, racing out to a 23-8 lead, and then made just 5-25 in the final 29 minutes of the contest (with Rose’s layup being the biggest of the five). Outside of Marcus Gilbert (15 pts), they just don’t have many offensive threats, although freshman Tyler Nelson scored 14 more. They are going to play defense, though, which they showed against Iona in the first half Tuesday, and they allowed only 11 points in the final 8:42 after the Red Foxes had grabbed a 43-40 lead.

Amadou Sidibe had eight points and eight rebounds in the first half, and did not play in the second half due to a knee injury he suffered against Iona. Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said he just couldn’t move enough to risk putting him back out there for the second half. That would be a huge loss for the Stags, but for now, they’ll continue to bother teams into looking bad and playing close games in the MAAC, some of which they’re bound to win.

Johnson chose to put Marcus Gilbert on the bench after his second foul with 8:27 left in the first half and Fairfield leading 23-10 and the Stags led only 26-23 at the break and didn’t get another field goal until Gilbert scored 15 seconds into the second half.

“When we can win a game like this, and not necessarily be at our best or sometimes our best guys aren’t even on the floor for long periods, to be able to win like that makes me really excited about this team,” Johnson said.

3. Sometimes it depends on when you get teams – Fairfield survived a full Marist squad, although Maker mentioned how there’s plenty of work to do to put his squad together. The Stags do have a win over Manhattan to open MAAC play, but that was a little different Jaspers squad than is playing much better these days. Meanwhile, teams that will face Marist from here on out (starting with Quinnipiac at home Sunday, who has had some terrible luck when it comes to these things) will likely have a tough time, especially in Poughkeepsie. Meanwhile, anyone playing Siena currently is seeming to get the Saints at their worst. In the end, it all adds up to a mess in the standings and a reminder than if anyone cares to get hot in March, they may be able to surprise everyone. Yes, even Marist.

“If you look at our team, we return three starters from a team that won 12 games last season,” Maker said. “But two of those (Hart and Curry) have been out all year and the other (Lewis) missed five games, too. Yet today when we lose by six on the road against a quality opponent, we give ourselves a chance to win, and I think we can play better.”

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