Fairfield freshman Tyler Nelson grabbed the transition pass from K.J. Rose as he sat near the left corner. Quickly came a flying Tyler Gaskins, who missed a transition layup seconds before to cover his man, the Saint Peter’s junior flew at the Stags shooter. Nelson calmly pump faked, waited for the junior to pass by, and then drained a three-pointer to put the Stags up 45-36.
“Our guys have been on the other end of that in practice a lot,” Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said referring to his bench. “They see how effective that is, when they saw him do it in the game, pretty much see the whole bench jumping up and ready to will that ball in. He’s just grown up, he’s getting better and better, and we’re thrilled we got him.”
Grown up might be the easy way to put it for Nelson, who scored a career-high 26 points to lead the way for the Stags’ fifth MAAC win, a 57-43 triumph over Saint Peter’s. 19 of his points came in the second half, accounting for 63% of the team’s points in the final 20 minutes.
“He’s just a godsend,” Johnson said. “There’s no other two ways about it: he’s just a fantastic kid and we’re looking forward to the next three years with him.”
It has been the dynamic play of Nelson and junior Mike Kirkland Jr. that allowed Fairfield’s usual star – Marcus Gilbert – to not feel the burden for a night. Faced with guarding Saint Peter’s senior Marvin Dominique, Kirkland scored nine of his 15 points in the first half, but held the Peacock’s star to five points.
“I think he was up for the challenge,” Johnson said. “We just try to continue to try to add things to his plate, in terms of low post scoring and passing. He’s been doing all that, he’s maturing and developing his game a bit.”
While the Stags might go as their star Marcus Gilbert goes, they got plenty of defensive help from his older brother Malcolm. The 6’11” junior tied a season-high with five blocks, the most emphatic of which was when sophomore Trevis Wyche drove the left baseline and his runner was met with a swat from Gilbert.
That left room for Marcus to work and do the little things to help the team win, which included grabbing five of the team’s nine offensive rebounds on the day and finishing with 11 points.
“[Special assistant] Bill Carmody said that to me right after the game, he said, ‘Sydney your best player didn’t have a monster offensive game, but we won and he helped us win’,” Johnson said. “Those are the two things: we want to win and we want him involved in us winning, even if it’s not 22, 25 points. I thought that was a really good sign for us that he’s able to be effective, really effective and yet not have the breakout scoring game and us win the game.”
That was enough to help the Stags break a 10 game losing skid.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.