The Fairfield Stags have beat two MAAC schools three times this season, but they try to pull off the opposite against Manhattan Jaspers in the semifinals at the MassMutual Center. Tip off is 4:30 p.m.
After the Jaspers knocked out defending champion Loyola 55-52 early Sunday morning, Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said it didn’t matter who the Stags were playing in the semifinals, he was just happy to have another game to prepare for Sunday.
In two previous meeting with Manhattan this season, the Stags have fallen short 62-40 and 34-31 (which was the lowest scoring MAAC game ever).
The Stags (19-14) actually hope for another ugly game with the Jaspers (13-17).
“Our defense – that’s how we measure if we are playing well or not,” Fairfield senior guard Derek Needham said. “If we are not scoring and giving up points, it’s a terrible game for us. Holding people to fewer points, 40-point games, for us, we like that.”
Going into the tournament, the Stags were the top defense in the MAAC (59.6 ppg). In two tournament games, Fairfield has allowed a combined 89 points (44.5 per game) while battling through some offensive lulls.
“People don’t believe me, we do want to score more,” Johnson said. “I think there were a lot of jump shots, there was good offense, that didn’t go in and that would have given us some separation.
“We want to score more, but if it’s a grind it out and it’s a heart game, I do want to be a part of that. I love to see that and I thought our guys played inspired. Too many times last year we didn’t get that.
“I thought we were the more talented team (last year), but we were not always the most inspired team. This year, it’s clear to me with Derek leading and Dez (Wade) and Colin (Nickerson), that we are an inspired team because we are not the most talented team.”
PITCHING IN: Wade has not made a field goal in two games, but that doesn’t mean he has not been involved while trying to comeback from minor left knee surgery.
The 5-foot-8 Wade, who went 0-for-5 against Rider, has three steals, four rebounds and even two blocks in two games. He’s only points – three – game at the foul line against Saint Peter’s.
“That’s a senior,” Needham said. “He doesn’t want to go home, so he’s going to make any play he needs to make whether it’s diving on the ground or giving it a tip. He doesn’t want to leave just like me and Colin doesn’t want to leave.”
Johnson continues to be pleased with the contributions of all three seniors – Needham, Colin Nickerson and Wade.
“It doesn’t always have to come in points or assists,” the coach said. “Dez is showing a lot of guys, Colin has been outstanding defensively and obviously Derek has scored which does help us on the offensive end.”
PASSIONATE COACH: The fired up personality of Sydney Johnson on the sidelines in the postseason is something his players love to see.
“He wants to win just as bad as we do,” Needham said. “When you get that from your coaching staff as players, it’s hard not to be motivated to play.”
ANOTHER RISING ROOKIE: All five freshmen have contributed during the season, but 6-6 forward Coleman Johnson might have been the latest to bloom after missing the start of the season due to a knee injury.
The freshman, from Paul VI High School in Virginia, has filled out a stat sheet in two tournament games with a combined six points, six rebounds, and four blocks.
“He’s getting there,” Johnson said. “He knows what I want out there. I want a tough kid. He has all the tools and he comes from an outstanding high school program, but I’m on him pretty hard.
“It’s a tough league and in order to take that next step and show his toughness, that he belongs out there on the court. We have gotten that the last couple games and hopefully we will see more of that.”
NOTE: Freshman Marcus Gilbert left Saturday’s game against Rider with a left finger injury and came back to the bench with his ring and pinky fingers taped together. He did not return, but Johnson did not rule him out for Manhattan.