Rejoice, Stag Nation! Fairfield is 2-0!
Coach Ed Cooley’s team won its second straight game to open the season with a gutty 63-55 decision over Fordham Sunday night in a sweltering Alumni Hall (2,190 showed, including a ton of students), a team that always seems to give the Stags fits no matter what the situation. Freshman guard Derek Needham scored a game-high 19 points (to go along with his 4 steals, 4 assists and 4 rebounds), while the Brothers Johnson — Shimeek and Anthony — added 13 each. Peanut added 12 rebounds for his first double-double of the season and Ryan Olander, who Cooley said was “getting a game ball” afterwards, scored 10 points and had five rebounds in 18 minutes.
Fairfield played the entire first half playing catch-up to the Rams, who opened a 15-5 lead and forced Fairfield to chip away slowly but surely before Needham’s two FT’s gave FU a 30-28 lead with 16.6 left. Fordham, however, tied the game with 1 second remaining as Jio Fontan drove the lane to score to even matters at 30-30 at halftime.
The Stags scored the first seven points of the second half -as Fordham missed its first eight shots — to take control and led by six, 47-41 with 7 minutes left as Fordham was a dismal 5 of 24 from the field. Still, Fairfield led just 50-45 with 5:40 to play before Needham dunked on a breakaway, Olander made two FT’s and then dove on the floor to save the ball, get it to Needham, who was fouled and his two FT’s gave Fairfield a 56-48 lead with 3:37 left. Fordham never got within four the rest of the way.
“He’s getting a game ball,” Cooley said of Olander. “He was the player of game. He had one big play after another. Whether it was a blocked shot, (taking) a charge, fighting for a loose ball. Those little things don’t show up on the sheet but he really made a big difference in today’s game.”
Positives: Fairfield was aggressive throughout and went to the FT line 41 times. Negatives: they missed 13 FT’s. Peanut was just 7 of 13 and he’s got to get better, especially if he’s going to be fighting in the paint for rebounds and putbacks, you know he’s going to get fouled. He’s got to start making them.
Positives: Fairfield was getting killed on the boards for the first 30-plus minutes but rallied to out-rebound Fordham 47-45. Shimeek had 10, Peanut 13 and Lyndon Jordan 7. Negatives: Fairfield gave up 18 offensive rebounds to the Rams.
Postives: Peanut had 5 blocks. Negatives: Peanut was 3 of 11 from the floor shooting.
Positives: Olander came off the bench and played hard with 10 points and 5 rebounds. Negatives: another bench player, Mike Evanovich … DID ABSOLUTELY NOTHING … 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 turnover in 10 worthless minutes. Hello, Mike: either get tough and do something or get out. Because when Yorel Hawkins comes back, I’m guessing Evanovich never takes off the warm-up unless hell’s about to freeze over.
After the game, Cooley spoke of a conversation he had with his freshman point guard around the nine minute mark in the second half. A conversation he said he wouldn’t share but a conversation that basically was: “Show us the way home.”
“I told Derek something and I don’t want to share that with anyone. That’s between Derek and I and the team. After I talked with Derek, a leader came out of him,” Cooley said. “We tried to do some things before the game to work on leadership and I talked to him about that about that eight- or nine-minute mark. We recruited him for a reason. The first time we saw him play we said we’ve got a special young man. He really controlled the second half for us.”
At the time of Cooley’s conversation, Fairfield led just 45-41 but Needham broke away for a dunk, Ryan Olander added two free throws and Needham dropped home two more free throws to make it 56-48 with 3:37 left.
OK, here’s the trivia buff section:
The last time Fairfield started a season 2-0 was back in 2003-04 under coach Tim O’Toole when Fairfield defeated Harvard at home and then won down at St.John’s in OT 64-59.
There have been 14 times that the Stags have started 2-0
Next game: Tuesday at Maryland.
Cross those fingers, Stag Nation.