Fairfield 93, Iona 87: Stags Win Is Probably Not A Fluke

They are what we thought they were,” is the famous line that stuck with Dennis Green, who sadly was among the seemingly hundreds of famous people who died in 2016.

But what we think can be fluid, can’t it? Iona entered the season ahead of Fairfield in the MAAC preseason poll, albeit only by a couple of spots (3rd and 5th, respectively). But the Gaels’ reputation as defending champions and perennial MAAC power makes the eyebrows raise when a score like: Fairfield 93, Iona 87 comes across your computer (or phone).

However, especially without Deyshonee Much (more on that below), it might just be that Fairfield, now full of experienced players that tasted a little bit of success, might be a better team right now. Although Iona (9-6, 2-2) made a late run to grab the lead and nearly stole the game late, the Stags led for nearly 37 minutes.

Even more disturbing for Iona, Fairfield (7-5, 2-1) basically beat the Gaels at their own game, racing out to a 9-point halftime lead by hitting 9 three-pointers in 43 possessions. The game finished at 81 possessions, and on the season the Stags are averaging a full three possessions more per game (74.7 to 71.7).

“We played terrible defense,” Jon Severe, who fought through two ankle sprains to score 13 points, said. “They did what we’re supposed to do, run out in transition and get open shots. We fixed the mistakes, and we had it, we fought back. We just have to work harder in practice and build from this.”

All is not lost for anyone at this time of the season, of course, certainly not Iona, who still has Jordan Washington, who put up 28 points in 28 minutes (and only committed 2 fouls in the process). But, with losses to Niagara, Towson, and Delaware already on the resume before Monday, they have much to figure out.

There are 16 or 17 (depending on the team) MAAC games left for teams to sort themselves out, and – quite frankly – it’s a bit of a mess at the moment. But Fairfield seems to have as good a shot as anyone, and maybe a better one than Iona.

“Iona’s been the class of the league for a while now,” Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. “Obviously, Monmouth had a great run last year, but Iona has been there for a long time. So I don’t care when it is, we’re very happy to defend our home court and defeat an NCAA Tournament team. Hopefully, we can build on it going forward.”

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What else did we learn at Webster Bank Arena?:

  1. Deyshonee Much is a big loss

The official word for Much no longer being with the Iona program Tim Cluess gave was “personal reasons”, and while Cluess did not say Much is gone for good, he didn’t seem optimistic Much will return this season. Much was not off to a great start this season, missing four games due to injury and shooting just 34.9% from the field (and averaging 8.6 points per game).

However, he was a third-team preseason MAAC selection and probably Iona’s best pure shooter in addition to giving them some interior help defensively at 6’5”. With Schadrac Casimir still limited (he did play 20 minutes in front of his hometown crowd Monday, scoring 5 points), Iona is terribly thin (8 scholarship players), which probably contributes to it playing slower basketball than it ever has under Cluess. That doesn’t mean they can’t win, as they showed in Alaska (where Much didn’t play), but those games were 62, 63, and 70-possession contests. He has some pieces, but this will probably be Cluess’ toughest coaching job in the MAAC.

“The other team shared the ball better than we did,” Cluess said. “They were better than us. They made plays late, and we didn’t. Sometimes you can take some positives out of losing, and we fought back, but we played like crap early on. We should have played that hard the entire game. Tonight, they were the better basketball team.”

2) Fairfield showed some guts

As I said, Iona made a late run sparked by Washington and eventually grabbed an 82-81 lead with 2:30 remaining, a spot where a younger, less confident Fairfield team (remember, the Stags had back-to-back 7-win seasons before last year) might have wilted against the defending champs. Instead, Jerome Segura, whom Iona was daring to do something offensively by putting Washington on him, made a short jumper, Segura followed that with a steal, and then Tyler Nelson – who struggled last season with suddenly being a marked man – drilled a long three-pointer as the dagger to give Fairfield the big win.

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The Stags had 24 assists on 35 field goals (Nelson finished with 17 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds) and finished at 1.15 points per possession. Their road win over Rider looks better than it did then, and they’ve currently played the second toughest schedule in the MAAC. It’s early, though.

“I was always in this for the long haul for this program,” Nelson, who is averaging exactly 20 points per game, said. “Freshman year, obviously we had a lot of struggles. Last year, we had a pretty solid year. Every year, we just want to keep building and this was another step.”

3) Sydney Johnson is not afraid to make tough calls

Amadou Sidibe entered as one of the top rebounders in the country (11.2 per game), but Fairfield went on a big first-half run (shooting 9-22 from three in the first half) when Sidibe and fellow big man Jonathan Kasibabu got in foul trouble. Johnson figured the Stags were onto something, and so he played his small lineup almost the rest of the way. Sidibe played just 6 minutes (grabbing 3 rebounds), but Matija Milin scored 21 points (on 10-13 shooting) and grabbed 9 boards, allowing Jerry Johnson (13 pts.) and Curtis Cobb (22 pts., 7-11 FG) room to flourish.

Sydney Johnson stuck with it, even when Jordan Washington was dominating and eventually, the Stags prevailed.

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“We see some things, like Matija is a kid that we can move around in different spots,” Johnson said. “He’s an interesting player when he’s at center and we surround him with four guards. A few teams in our league do that as well, so we’re not unique, but there are times when we want to do that and tonight was one of them.”

Game on from Bridgeport! #TMMLegacy

A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on

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