By John Cirillo
Fairfield University (18-11, 12-7 MAAC), scoring the first eight points in the second half, registered a critical MAAC victory for a third place tie in the conference standings, defeating Siena College(19-11, 12-7 MAAC), 76-69, at Webster Bank Arena on Wednesday night.
Sophomore Tyler Nelson iced the game, hitting two free throws to give Fairfield an eight point lead, 69-61, with 1:03 remaining. Nelson, 88 percent from the foul line this season to lead the MAAC, hit another pair in the final seconds to seal the deal.
Nelson had 16 points to lead the Stags with freshman Matija Milin, also with 16 points, including two key free throws with less than a minute to go in the contest.
Coleman Johnson blocked five shots to spark the defense for Fairfield.
The Stags scored the first 10 points of the game, and never relinquished the lead. The Saints cut the lead to one in the first half, but Fairfield regained a 10 point bulge, and led 39-32 at the intermission.
Siena staged a late rally, cutting a Fairfield 17-point second half lead to three, but was unable to get any closer.
It was Fairfield’s 18th win of the season, more than double last year’s win total of seven in the rejuvenated season for head coach Sydney Johnson. The Stags’ turnaround ranks in the top three most-improved teams in Division I this season.
Fairfield was without two key players and its top freshmen: Curtis Cobb sat out with an ankle injury, and Jerry Johnson, Jr., who missed his third straight due to the death of his father in Memphis.
Fairfield has won nine of its last 11.
Fairfield evened the season’s series against Siena, avenging the Saints 91-76 win in Albany on January 7.
Fairfield registered an earlier statement victory over perennial MAAC conference standout Iona on January 24. Marcus Gilbert was the catalyst in the wire-to-wire victory with 32 points on the strength of seven three-pointers, in his third 30-plus point performance of the season.
The Stags wrap up the regular season on the road against St. Peter’s on Saturday (February 27) before heading into MAAC post season play.