Fairfield 80, Manhattan 70: Stags Do The Simple Things To Roll

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – Fairfield’s two leading scorers (and only two averaging double digits) – Marcus Gilbert and Tyler Nelson – combined for just two points (both Nelson’s), the Stags committed 13 turnovers, and … had a 16-point lead at the half over Manhattan Sunday afternoon?

Manhattan battled back from there, but was never quite able to get over the proverbial hump, falling for the 10th straight trip to Webster Bank Arena, 80-70.

Steve Masiello took the Occam’s razor approach to the Jaspers’ first-half problems.

“I thought it was a combination of we didn’t shoot it well in the first half and they did,” Masiello said. “Basically, it’s as simple as that.”

The data backs him up, of course, Manhattan was a dreadful 7-23 from the field in the first half with nine turnovers of its own, with a swarmed Shane Richards trying to carry the offensive load. Manhattan finished the first half at 0.69 points per possession, and no matter what’s going on at the other end, it’s going to be tough to win.

However, Fairfield’s offense was doing just fine, thank you, with Gilbert (6 minutes) and Nelson (7 minutes) on the bench. It was a quartet of freshman from all over the country and globe that were burying the Jaspers (9-12, 6-6). Jonathan Kasibabu (Democratic Republic of Congo) dominated inside the paint with 9 points and 10 rebounds, Matija Milin (Serbia) found holes in the middle of Manhattan’s zone for a career-high 19 points and 9 rebounds, Curtis Cobb (Fall River, Mass.) used a smooth shooting stroke to score 20 points and add 7 rebounds, while Jerry Johnson (Memphis) buried three from behind the arc. Sophomore Jerome Segura (Houston) took only four shots, but had 11 assists and 6 rebounds as well. Even with 23 turnovers on the afternoon, Fairfield finished at 1.10 ppp thanks to its shooting.

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“Obviously Marcus and Tyler are huge parts of our program and we’re following their lead, but I think we’re confident and comfortable with a lot of different guys out there,” Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson, whose team snapped a two-game losing streak, said They didn’t bat an eye without them out there and I didn’t. We just kind of rolled with it.”

If those seemed like an inordinate amount of rebounds for the Stags (13-11, 7-7), they were. Fairfield outrebounded Manhattan 44-18, with a 53.6% rate on offense (15 of 28), while conceding just five offensive rebounds at the other end (14.7%). Those numbers may be more concerning to Masiello going forward, especially because the Jaspers won the battle of the boards over the Stags 44-39 last month (in a Manhattan win) in Riverdale.

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“Even though we’re small, we can’t get manhandled like that on the backboard like we did,” Masiello said. “We forced them to play small the first time and their bigs imposed their will on the game early, and that was a big difference in the game.”

In the end, Fairfield finished with a 31.9% turnover rate, but it didn’t matter, although thanks to Richards’ 22 points, Manhattan did get within seven (and had the ball) in the final moments.

What else did we learn on Super Bowl Sunday at WBA?:

  1. Should Manhattan be worried the same could happen again going forward?

The Jaspers are only 8th in MAAC play in offensive efficiency and have gotten by with their shooting (51.3 eFG%, 4th) in conference play. Richards is going to do his thing, Fairfield did a good job on him even though he scored his 22. When Manhattan has been at its best, Rich Williams has helped him, but Williams finished with a season-low four points (1-5 FG) in 23 minutes.

While obviously not thrilled with Sunday’s performance, Masiello didn’t seem overly concerned, even though his team still has eight games remaining and will play four times in seven days starting Thursday at home against Quinnipiac. The schedule also has a game each against Monmouth and Iona left.

“We have an NBA schedule coming up, four in seven days,” Masiello said. “We’ll get back on the horse and be better. We’ll be fine.”

2) Speaking of shooting the ball well

The game can be really be as simple as making shots sometimes. Fairfield has ranked 315th and 311th nationally (10th and 9th in the MAAC, respectively) in offense the last two seasons, and ended each with just seven wins. In those seasons they were 317th and 315th in eFG%, which makes it hard to do much offensively, no matter how creative you are.

The Stags’ up-tempo offense (now 21st in adjusted tempo) has helped free shooters, but they still have to make them, and Sunday’s 58.8 eFG% performance now has them at 52.6% for the season, 62nd nationally (although just 5th in MAAC play behind Iona, Monmouth, Siena, and Manhattan). The aforementioned freshmen have all helped in that area. Somewhat bizarrely, Fairfield took only two three-pointers in the second half, but they had the lead and Manhattan was forced to extend. The Stags have played the third toughest schedule in the MAAC according to KenPom, so the best may be yet to come.

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“We really wanted to play much harder. We disappointed ourselves Friday (in a 91-67 loss at Monmouth), to be honest,” Johnson said. “Monmouth is really good. We all know that. People across the country know how good they are, but we didn’t play like we played all year. The thing I love about these guys is they knew it, so our practice and shootaround were really good coming in. We wanted to get our identity back.”

3) Chasing that bye

The top five teams in the MAAC will not have to play in the first round, and we’re pretty sure the top two will be Monmouth and Iona. Although they lost at Marist Sunday and have a tough schedule remaining, I think Siena will get to third, which leaves two more spots, and after that, who knows? What we do know is that it’s much easier to not have to play that fourth game, the last team to successfully navigate it and win was Siena in 2002 and they were at home. No one else is even over .500 in the league right now. Fairfield might have a slight edge based on its schedule. The Stags have not been in the top five since 2012 and haven’t won a game in the MAAC Tournament since 2013.

Bonus) Weird streaks

The fact that Fairfield has won 10 straight times over Manhattan at Webster Bank Arena is a little strange, especially because in 2013, the game at WBA between the two was postponed due to a blizzard and rescheduled for Fairfield’s campus with Manhattan crushing Fairfield at Alumni Hall (they would play their infamous 34-31 game at Draddy Gym a couple of weeks later).

“I wasn’t part of most of those losses thankfully,” Masiello said. “Maybe we should play all the games at Alumni.”

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