Men's Basketball Secures Win Over Niagara
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – If there was ever a team that needed a win coming into tonight's game, it was the Fairfield University men's basketball team. The win wasn't necessary because of placement in the MAAC standings, nor was it imperative due to a sense of urgency. After all, it's only three games into the 18-game conference season, so it wasn't all that crucial in the grand scheme. Tonight, the Stags needed a win simply to validate their hard work and their effort over the first two MAAC games that did not end the way Head Coach Sydney Johnson and his student-athletes had hoped. So when the final buzzer sounded at Alumni Hall tonight, the Stags enjoyed their 77-59 victory over Niagara University. And, they will all enjoy the feeling tonight. But come tomorrow, the team will begin its prep for Saint Peter's on Thursday night with the hope of building on tonight's success. "It's a long season, a marathon," Coach Johnson said. "I don't think in terms of being 0-3 or 1-2 because it really doesn't allow you to focus on the present. I'm going to go home tonight and relax a little bit but then I have to get ready for Saint Peter's. Regardless of what our record was going to be after tonight it would change that fact that we needed to be ready on Thursday night. I do know that we played really good basketball in our first two MAAC games. There were things we needed to fix and we rolled that into game three. And again, we played really good basketball in game three so let's see what game four looks like on Thursday night." Tonight's good basketball went through senior Jonathan Kasibabu, who showed once again that he has the skills to dominate in the MAAC. In this game, the forward posted his fourth double-double in the last seven games, but this effort was the best of the bunch. Kasibabu scored 20 points and completed his double-double with 14 rebounds, giving him nearly 11 rebounds per game during this sensational seven-game run. "I don't try to do everything myself so I need to trust everyone else on the basketball court," Kasibabu said. "If you play the right way, you will get what you want. I kept reminding everyone about that when we would huddle. You need to look past a bad play and concentrate on making the next play. If you do that, you will get the W." The Stags put themselves in good position to win their first two conference games, building a double-digit halftime against both Rider and Iona before falling short by the time the final buzzer sounded. Tonight, Fairfield kept its first-half playbook and did practically the same thing, building an 11-point lead by halftime. Fairfield only trailed twice in the game, the last of which came at 17-16 with 9:22 left in the first half. Jesus Cruz scored on the Stags' next possession which started an 11-2 run for Fairfield and extended its lead to 27-19 with 6:25 remaining in the half. The Stags would add a couple of more points to their advantage by halftime as Landon Taliaferro's three pointers with 32 seconds remaining pushed the score to 41-30. While the second half may have been nightmarish last week, tonight the final 20 minutes was a continuation of the team's first half success. Kasibabu was at the heart of the second half resurgence, scoring 14 of his 20 points after halftime. The senior's experience certainly showed through tonight and helped a relatively young team through any Niagara attempt at coming back and to keep his teammates focused on execution, something that eluded the inexperienced Stags over the last two outings. "Two halves of basketball at a high level has not been a strength of ours to be quite honest," Coach Johnson said. "When you are dealing with nine guys who have one season or less of college basketball, there is a challenge. So we were laser focused on execution and playing well for 40 minutes. But we have been saying that all season. Tonight, the guys reached that level and made it happen on the court." Fairfield scored the first six points of the second half, the last of which came on another Taliaferro three pointer that gave Fairfield its biggest lead at 17 points, 47-30. Niagara reeled off six straight points to pull within 11 points before Kasibabu rallied his team with four straight points on successive possessions to stop the Purple Eagles' momentum. Niagara came closest after Raheem Solomon's three pointer cut the lead to 55-45 with 12:51 on the clock. Once again, the Stags answered with a string of points behind a three-point shot from Cruz and another layup from Kasibabu that moved the lead back to 15 points, 60-45. The Stags would lead by as many as 21 points before closed out the game with the 18-point win. "This was win was huge for us because now guys can see what it takes to win a basketball game," Kasibabu said. "The effort has been there. The talent has been there. We just didn't know how to finish the game. After tonight, the guys can see how to play through the second half which is something we have been struggling with the most." Neftali Alvarez scored 15 points while Cruz added 13 points to help Fairfield's cause. Aidas Kavaliauskas came off the bench to register six points, 10 assists and two steals. Dominik Fragala came off the bench to score 20 points for Niagara, the team's only double-figure scorer. Fairfield finishes up its two-game home stand with a game against Saint Peter's University on Thursday night at Webster Bank Arena. Game time is scheduled for 7 pm.