I had the opportunity to cover Fairfield University’s BracketBuster game against Austin Peay on Saturday afternoon at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard, so I went over there and took in my first Stags game of the year.
I wouldn’t say that I was overtly impressed with the way that Fairfield played despite its 76-69 win over the Governors. However, that could be the story of the Stags season so far. Outside of point guard Derek Needham, who is likely the favorite for MAAC player of the year, the Stags don’t really have anyone who jumps out at you.
Fairfield is tough up front, Ryan Olander, Maurice Barrow and Yorel Hawkins are all good sized forwards. Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos said that the Stags’ size advantage was evident in preparation for Saturday’s game.
The game was by no means pretty. Needham did not by any means have even a good day shooting on Saturday, he was 6-17, and Fairfield seemed to have trouble closing out on Austin Peay’s best player, Tyshwan Edmondson, who scored 29 points. However, Olander chipped in 11 points and junior Colin Nickerson gave the Stags 17 points, eight rebounds and seven steals off of the bench and Fairfield found the way to close the game.
Stags’ coach Ed Cooley seemed overjoyed by the victory, calling it a “program win.” I don’t know that I’d agree with that, but Fairfield is gaining clout in the college basketball community. ESPN’s Andy Katz told the Post’s Bill Paxton and myself that should Fairfield win the MAAC Tournament, a 14-seed should be awaiting it.
I think a 22-5 team that wins its conference regular season (a very good conference at that) and conference tournament should garner a high seed. Siena won the MAAC two years ago and was a nine-seed. However, Fairfield still needs to win its conference tournament to get to the NCAA tournament.
This is the year that it all seems to line up for the Stags. The conference tournament is in their home arena, the league is down, and Fairfield is good. If the Stags don’t do it this year, I don’t know when they will. Cooley said that winning the conference’s regular season, and an automatic bid into the NIT, is not the team’s goal and nor should it be.
It’s NCAA or bust.