Break up the Stags! Though it’s still early, the Fairfield men’s basketball squad looks capable of a breakthrough season under head coach Sydney Johnson.
Senior forward Marcus Gilbert (21.2 ppg) is sparking the resurgence. The 6-6, Smyrna, Delaware product scored a career-high 33 points, including four of the Stags’ 10 overtime points, leading Fairfield to its third straight victory with a nose, 82-81 decision over Columbia University on Friday night.
It was Gilbert’s second straight 30-point performance, after pouring in 32 points in the blowout over the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore on (Tuesday) November 24.
Gilbert has been the complete package for the Stags while scoring from every angle – tomahawk jams, three-point field goals and clutch free throws all a part of the arsenal.
Following the 0-3 start to the season, there were early whispers of “same old Fairfield” percolating. But there was something different about the 2015-16 edition of the Stags: more confidence and more talent. After Yale’s convincing win in the opener, Fairfield kept in close against number 1 ranked North Carolina until the late stages of the game, and were more than competitive in a 79-72 setback to Northwestern, both road contests which are never easy against teams of this caliber.
Complimenting Gilbert’s scoring barrages, the sophomore starting guard tandem of Tyler Nelson (12.3 ppg) and Jerome Segura (6.6 ppg) have a year under their belts, are playing with poise, and are sure to improve with every minute.
Three rookies – Jerry Johnson Jr. (9.8 ppg) – I like to call him “Triple J.”, or is it JJJ? – Matija Milin (8.2 ppg) and Curtis Cobb (5.2 ppg) – are third, fourth and sixth on Fairfield’s scoring leader board, playing significant minutes with significant contributions already.
A fourth freshman, Jonathan Kasibabu, is the Stags’ Chairman of the Boards with 6 rebounds a game, and chips in with 5 ppg. The Republic of Congo import by way of Pennsylvania has helped to pick up the slack in the absence of injured senior Amadou Sidibe.
The outstanding play from the freshmen also gives Fairfield greater depth off the bench with Mike Kirkland, Jr., Kevin Degnan, Steve Smith and Coleman Johnson all capable when called upon.
Kudos to head man “El Syd,” who is pressing all the right buttons in game decisions and on the recruiting front, while the hires of former head coaches Mitch Buonaguro and Tom Parrotta as assistants added veteran savvy to the staff.
Last season, the Stags had too many near-misses, and weren’t able to seal the deal in the final strides. This season, the pair of overtime wins against Sacred Heart and Columbia show a new-found resiliency and fight for hoopsters from Fairfield. From this corner, the Stags will make their presence felt as one of the top teams in the MAAC.
There will be more joyous calls from the Stags Voice Bob Heussler, and happier recaps for AD Gene Doris.
Next up for the Stags, MAAC rival Iona in New Rochelle on Tuesday, in the first conference game of the season.