On Saturday, March 7, the Fairfield University Stags beat the Manhattan Jaspers 68-61 to move on to the MAAC Conference semifinals against the No. 1 seed Siena Saints.
As you may already know, the Stags have been plagued by injuries all season long. These injuries include Anthony Johnson, Warren Edney, and Greg Nero, who has returned but is still not 100 percent.
After the first half, Fairfield had a one-point 25-24 lead in a half that featured tough defense from both sides. The Jaspers came out of the gate on fire, starting the second half with a 10-0 run to take a 34-25 lead. After Stags coach Ed Cooley took an early half timeout, the Stags went on a 22-7 run to take a 47-41 lead with just 8:51 to go in the second half.
The points leader for the Jaspers was Darryl Crawford, who posted 21 points with six rebounds, three of them on the offensive side of the ball. Chris Smith scored 14 points and led the team with eight rebounds.
One big name back in the lineup for Manhattan was Devon Austin, who missed a month due to injury, but he only played 13 minutes, scoring just five points.
The Stags were led by the play of Mike Evanovich and Herbie Allen. Evanovich had 18 points and four rebounds, while Allen put up 17 points and three assists. Evanovich is the Stags' largest threat from behind the arc and made two of Fairfield's three attempts from three-point land.
The reason why Allen's numbers are so impressive is because he missed much of the first half due to foul trouble. He was called for his third foul with 12 minutes to play in the first half.
On the afternoon, the Stags shot 50 percent from the floor, most of which came in the second half 43-point explosion.
Allen, Evanovich, and Jamal Turner all committed four fouls with plenty of time to go in the second half but were able to avoid fouling out of the game. In my opinion, the Jaspers failed to control the game when they were unable to get the top players of Fairfield to foul out.
The Jaspers are the type of team that will score quickly and not take much time to set a play. If they see an open lane, they take it to the basket. The positive of this strategy is that it prevents the defense from getting set, but the negative is that it results in lower percentage shooting.
Any viewer of the game will know that this way of running an offense worked in the opening of each half, but Fairfield adjusted and was able to keep the Jasper offense in check.
All season long the Stags have faced challenges with injuries and their top point guard Jon Han being suspended for the rest of the season. This game was no different. Greg Nero was showing signs of fatigue and back pain late in the second half from being absent for almost a month, while Yorel Hawkins battled a lower back injury that took him out of the game for short time in the second half.
Despite the setbacks, Nero was able to maintain great positioning under the basket, while Hawkins came right back in the game to maintain the Stag lead.
With 1:23 left in the game, the Stags had control of a 59-56 lead when the Jaspers began to use the full court press and try to force a turnover. Because of this, Mike Evanovich was left wide-open near the basket, took the pass, and made a two-handed dunk to put an exclamation mark on the game.
After that, the Jaspers had no other choice but to foul and allow the Stags to shoot free throws. The Stags made seven of their last 10 free shots to win the game 68-61.
Next up for the Stags is the Siena Saints, who are No. 1 in the conference and routed Canisius in their semifinal game 77-52. The Saints were led by Edwin Ubiles, who put up 18 points, four rebounds, and two assists. Ubiles, along with Ryan Rossiter and Kenny Hasbrouck, will pose the biggest threat to Fairfield chances at winning their semifinal matchup and moving on to the MAAC championship.