Six players in double figures. A sparkling 31 of 37 from the free throw line. The most points (93) scored in the Ed Cooley era. Oh yeah, the Fairfield Stags are rolling.
Sunday’s 93-77 win was Fairfield’s eighth in 10 games this season – and if Hofstra’s Charles Jenkins didn’t go mental and score 38 – the Stags would most likely be 9-1 and the town would really be buzzing.
To quote Darth Vader: … “Impressive … Most Impressive.”
This is a fun team to watch. Yes, Warren Edney is lost for the season with ankle surgery and Greg Nero is probably done too (an announcement should come soon that he’s also going to have to redshirt) but with Yorel Hawkins and Anthony Johnson and Derek Needham and Colin Nickerson and Shimeek Johnson and Lyndon Jordan and Jamal Turner and Sean Crawford (who’s gutting it out on two bad feet) and Ryan Olander and Mike Evanovich, this team is athletic, they run and they play pretty good defense.
Did we say they can score too?
The 93 points they threw at Sacred Heart Sunday was the most since Cooley’s been the head coach. The six players in double figures was the first time since an 89-78 OT win at St. Peter’s on Dec. 28, 2007 that Fairfield had accomplished that feat. And Needham’s 14 assists – a nice complement to his 19 points – was the seventh highest assist total in Stag history.
“We wanted to go right to the rim every single time. We wanted our feet to live in the paint. When we were settling for jump shots I wasn’t very happy. We felt we could attack and it worked, going to the free throw line 37 times,” Cooley said. “We want to play at a high pace. When you’ve got a guy like this here (Needham) who can control the game and I think he’s just getting better. He did a hell of a job out there. He was a man amongst boys.”
Cooley’s not kidding. In his 10 games, Needham is averaging 15.7 points and 3.0 rebounds in 34.3 minutes. He’s handed out 58 assists, made 22 steals and won three MAAC Rookie of the Week awards. And it’s a safe bet that after that 19-14 effort against the Pioneers, it’s about to become No. 4.
But he wasn’t the only star. Anthony Johnson is looking like he’s finally getting back in the comfort zone around the basket, as his 21 points and nine rebounds would suggest.
“I feel pretty good. I love playing, this is a great group of guys, we’re enjoying each other on and off the court. We joke around even when we’re in the locker room,” Johnson said. “I feel pretty comfortable, aside from the free throws. Everything else is pretty good. I’m still trying to figure it out.”
Johnson made 5 of 9 from the line against the Pioneers, bringing his season numbers up to a still-ugly 27 of 61 (44.3 percent).
But those misses didn’t matter. Not when Hawkins is contributing 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 steals in 35 minutes. Not when Olander, Evanovich and Jordan are all scoring 10 points. Not when Crawford is giving you 14 minutes of hard-nosed defense.
“It was a good team effort,” Cooley said. “Everyone that stepped onto the floor was focused and it was a good team win.”
Here’s some post game quotes:
Sacred Heart coach Dave Bike
(On the game)
“They outplayed us.”
(On the foul differential)
“It’s pretty tough to make up the foul line situation. They went at the basket and we fouled them. Until we can guard someone like that without fouling them, it’s going to be pretty hard to overcome. They scored 93 and they did a good job. They’ve got some pretty good numbers there. They ran better than us on the fast break. We say we want to run but I’m not convinced that we run as fast and as hard as we should. They’re a good team, they did want they wanted to do and we didn’t.”
(On Needham’s play)
“Look at his numbers. When’s the last time someone had 19 points and 14 assists? I don’t think anyone fudged those numbers. The kid went to the basket strong and ended up going to the foul line 10 times.”
SHU forward Ryan Litke
“I love playing against them. We play against them all summer. Most of the guys on the teams are friends. I’m pretty close with Yorel and we’d be just trash talking back and forth with each other. It’s a fun game.”
“He’s a little bit more of a passer than Han was. Han really liked to get his shot. I felt that Needham was just quick as lightning, getting into the lane. He was just finding people down low real easy.”
Fairfield coach Ed Cooley
(Thoughts on the game)
“Our game plan for this was a bit different based on how well Sacred Heart shoots the three. I thought we did a great job (defending) in the first half, so this gentlemen (Needham) here beside me probably forgot that second half scouting report because they made seven three’s and four of them were right in his face. So we’ll watch some film on that so he adheres to that the next time we play a situation like that, isn’t that correct? (Needham nods) Yes … good answer.
“But overall, I thought we controlled the game. Defensively we gave them a lot of different problems. They’re good. That’s the best Sacred Heart team we’ve played since we’ve been playing. They’re very hard to guard, they spread the floor and they can shoot the three.
“I though the little guy to the right (Needham) controlled the tempo and the big guy to his right (Johnson) did a great job in the interior. We played our game. Overall, great effort from our kids.