Leftover news and notes from Monday night’s 66-64 win over Iona at the Webster Bank Arena.
WAITING FOR WADE: Senior guard Desmond Wade continues to make progress trying to return from a knee injury. Wade, who had a minor procedure on the knee last week, has started his rehab, but the Stags are not going to rush him back.
“It’s two to four weeks and nothing’s really changed,” Johnson said. “We’d love to get him back for Albany. I don’t know if he will be ready for Albany, but we are looking at Manhattan and Marist.”
Wade joined the Stags on the court Monday prior to the Iona game and has not encountered any setbacks.
“He’s doing his routine, he’s icing and he has full range of motion from what I can tell,” Johnson said. “Obviously we can’t rush it and he hasn’t done any basketball stuff with us, but two weeks are what we are hoping and praying for.”
FUTURE STARS: Since the first day of practice Johnson has been praising the Stags’ freshmen class and against Iona, several of them had huge games.
Guard Justin Jenkins, who missed seven games with a wrist injury, scored 12 points with five assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes. Forward Amadou Sidibe pounded the glass (9 rebounds) and the paint (9 points). Marcus Gilbert hit two 3-pointers, with the second coming with one second left on the shot clock to give Fairfield a 63-61 lead with 47 seconds remaining.
“They certainly did,” Johnson said about several freshmen stepping up. “Josip (Mikulic) has had better games and he’ll have good games moving forward.
“We feel like we have the best freshmen class in the MAAC. I’ve never wavered from that feeling. They have been able to produce and they have been able to produce in big moments. They have gotten better individually as we’ve gone through the season and I think it bodes well for the future of the program.
“I’m not changing my stance – I think these kids are really, really good.”
Mikulic, a 7-footer with a deft outside touch, only played six minutes against the Gaels, but has produced five double-digit scoring games this season.
Freshman No. 5, forward Coleman Johnson, got off to a slow start to the season due to a knee injury. However, Johnson turned in solid time Monday, finishing with four points and two rebounds in 11 minutes.
BENCH BOOST: Jenkins’ numbers along with Maurice Barrow, who had 10 points with eight rebounds, turned out to be the difference for the Stags in a battle of star guards – Derek Needham vs. Iona’s Momo Jones and Sean Armand – at the WBA.
Overall, Fairfield’s bench outscored Iona’s 30-17. The Gaels top contributor was David Laury with 12 points and six rebounds.
“I’m not going to say surprised, I think they hit some shots you hope they dont’ make,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “But, these guys are all scholarship-level players. … It’s not your first-tier guys but they are going to make a couple. You have to live with it.”
Where Cluess thought his role players hurt the Gaels was not stepping up on defense and on the glass. Fairfield won the board battle 39-27.
“I thought we lost Needham three times tonight, maybe four, and he made us pay four times,” the coach said. “That’s the kind of player you can’t lose at all.”
The Gaels received only eight minutes from senior Taaj Ridley due to foul trouble and injuries, while A.J. English (hand) and Curtis Dennis sat out, leaving the team short-handed.
“When you are down a few bodies (mistakes) happen,” Cluess said. “You are putting in guys who are maybe a little high strung to do right and maybe lose their assignment along the way. And that happened.”
THE POWER OF 3: Johnson established three keys to the Stags’ season at the beginning of the year.
A. Strong senior leadership from Wade, Needham and Colin Nickerson.
B. Contributions from the freshmen.
C. Staying healthy.
Outside of Wade’s injury and Coleman Johnson and Jenkins missing some time, the Stags have managed to keep everyone in the lineup in order to achieve those goals.
“Right now we have two of the three and we’ve had three of the three all year long,” coach Johnson said. “If we can get Dez back healthy, we might have a run in us.
“We certainly believe in ourselves as we go up to Springfield even though I know we have some games left (in the regular season). If we can get those three right, I think we are a good team in this league.”
Sydney Johnson on the crowd of 3,082, which was the second largest at the WBA this season:
“It was a really nice crowd and we have a hell of an arena. It was a good place to see a game like this.”
Cluess on the loss:
“We executed most of the game, but unfortunately a couple plays we didn’t execute late, more on the defensive end, and it cost us. One loose ball, one box out and one trap we left without the guy having to pass the ball – those are the three plays that cost us the game. You can’t have those plays when you are fighting to get a game like this.”