Stags need to toughen up … right now

Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson was not in a good mood following the Stags 63-53 loss to Hartford last night – a team that had played a 7 a.m. game in Fort Myers, Fla. – on Tuesday before flying home and playing, and beating, Fairfield – on its home court, no less, Wednesday night.
So, instead of being 2-0 heading down to Baltimore for Saturday’s game against former MAAC foe Loyola of Maryland, the Stags are 1-1 and Johnson is now looking for ways to make his team play harder. Because at the moment, they are not playing hard at all.
Fairfield gave up nine 3-pointers to the Hawks, including three each to 6-foot-6 Mark Nwakamma and 6-foot-10 Yasin Kolo. Kolo played 27 minutes against the Stags, making 6 of 8 shots from the floor. Not bad for someone that in Hartford’s first two games, played just 19 minutes total.
In addition, the Stags’ second half defense was dismal, allowing Hartford to shoot 52.6 percent. There was no pressure to speak of, especially when Hartford was bringing the ball up court. As a result, the Hawks had just 13 turnovers.
“No loss is a good loss and this one, we don’t feel good about this at all,” Johnson said after the game. “We want to learn to win on our home court and win games like these. We’re humbled.”
Humbled? They should be embarrassed.
Hartford was gassed. Exhausted. They had nothing in the tank after flying to Florida, playing at the crack of dawn and then playing back and playing Fairfield the next night. Yet, the Hawks gutted out a huge win, a win that coach John Gallagher called the “best” win (at Hartford) since he’s been coach.
Why? “Because of the circumstances,” Gallagher said. “We didn’t have a lot of sleep. We played (Tuesday) at 7 a.m. on national TV. For us, that was as good a win as I’ve been a part of because of the guts of these guys.”
For just over half and hour after the game, Johnson kept his team behind closed doors, taking about the lack of effort and how that had to stop. This may have been the Stags second game of the season but Johnson wants to try and nip this lack of intensity situation in the bud now and get his players focused on bringing the energy all the time, from the opening tip to the final buzzer. Hence, the long locker room talk.
“We talked about being consistent,” Johnson said. “We want to be a great program, we want to be a NCAA tournament program and we can’t have ups and downs in terms of how we present ourselves, both in practice and in games. So, our practice habits and our game habits, they have to be intense and hard all the time. We didn’t enough of that (against Hartford).”
One player who’s hasn’t been able to bring the energy has been sophomore forward Amadou Sidibe, who’s been hampered with foul trouble in both Fairfield games. Just 35 seconds into the Hartford game, Sidibe was whistled for his first foul. Foul No. 2 came at the 17:39 mark. That sent him to the bench. He re-entered the game with 10:14 left in the half and managed to finish the half without picking up his third foul. However, that came just 38 seconds into the second half and sent Sidibe back to the bench. In two games, he’s played just 35 minutes (13 vs. Sacred Heart, 22 vs. Hartford)
“I have to do a better job of adjusting to the new calls,” Sidibe said. “There are times when I play too aggressive and not as smart as times. I have to do a better job of knowing that my team needs me to be on the court as long as possible.”
Despite that, Sidibe managed eight points and grabbed eight rebounds. Project those numbers out over 40 minutes and you’re talking 16 to 20 points and 12 to 16 rebounds. The Stags are going to need that desperately this season.
After blocking eight shots and grabbing 11 rebounds (five points) against SHU, 6-foot-11 Malcolm Gilbert had just four points, one rebound and one block in 12 minutes versus Hartford. His brother Marcus, had two points (he missed all five of his shots), four rebounds and three assists in 15 minutes. Like Sidibe, both battled foul trouble.
Sean Grennan played 23 minutes and had one assist. Lincoln Davis played 19 minutes and had zero assists. Doug Chappell played 14 minutes and had zero assists. And K.J. Rose played 28 minutes and had just two assists.
That’s not good at all.
Rose did attack the basket and make five of nine shots to lead Fairfield with 14 points. Davis, Chappell and Rose are all freshmen and Grennan is a sophomore transfer but these guys have to grow up – and fast – if the Stags are going to compete for the MAAC title.
Senior forward Maurice Barrow played 36 minutes and took just three shots. After the game, Johnson revealed that Barrow is fighting some injuries.
“Mo didn’t practice for a couple of days because he was hurt a little bit,” the coach said. “He gave us everything he could today and I think he’ll do the same every game he plays in. He’s a little big banged up. He’s not 100 percent but he’s good enough to play. He took charges for us, he communicated, he knew the scouting report, he was helping other guys … he gave us everything he could. We couldn’t have stayed competitive without him.”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier after Loyola on Saturday as Holy Cross comes to the WBA next Wednesday and then Fairfield faces No. 3 Louisville and either Richmond or No. 12 North Carolina
“We have to find it within ourselves,” Sidibe said. “The coach can keep saying it but if we don’t take into account (and play harder), it doesn’t mean anything.”