Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson was hardly surprised to see his group put together the kind of performance they did Tuesday night.
“We scored a ton of points, but I don’t think—this is the God’s honest truth—I don’t think any of our guys were blown away by how we played,” Johnson said. “It is a reflection of what we’ve been doing since the summer time.”
Fairfield managed a 23-0 run to separate themselves from MEAC foe Maryland-Eastern Shore and coasted to a 113-74 victory. The Stags set a new school record for three-pointers made (17) and managed to score the most points since their 123-103 win over Holy Cross on Feb. 25, 1978. It appears that the tough start to the year, opening against Yale, North Carolina and Northwestern, where the Stags were able to compete in spurts has helped them grow in back-to-back wins. Yet Johnson attributes the team’s growth to how much they are still coming together.
“Our practices have been really good, fast paced, good shooting, good unselfishness and playing extremely hard,” Johnson said. “Everyone on our schedule I thought we’ve played pretty well.”
The NCAA did not rule freshman Jonathan Kasibabu eligible until minutes before Fairfield’s opener in the Connecticut 6. Since then the 6’8” forward from the Congo has been on a start, tallying 12 points in two games and 15 rebounds in their overtime win over Sacred Heart. Johnson has typically played his freshmen early, and he is giving the four freshmen a chance to show their potential. Curtis Cobb scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Northwestern, a game the Stags lost by seven, while Jerry Johnson has scored 35 points in their last two games. Add those three to 6’9” Serbian Matija Milin, who has added 7.8 ppg and 3.2 rpg off the bench, and the freshmen have been a key part of the Stags’ improvement.
“What I’ve tried to stress with people is, we have four freshmen who are really really really good,” Johnson said. “Are they going to be All-MAAC and All-Conference? I don’t know, that concerns me less than the fact that on any given night, I feel like they’re reliable contributors.”
The most exciting part of this year’s team for Johnson hasn’t been the freshmen, it has been how they have been able to translate their competitive practices to games.
“The way that we are practicing and then how we carry practices over to games is more how I’ve always wanted to be,” Johnson said. “We’re working hard, we’re having fun and we’re doing that in practice first and then carrying it over into games. That’s for me what’s exciting.”
Fairfield is almost done a stretch of eight games during the first three weeks of the season, before a two week hiatus for finals. In that time, Johnson hopes the carry over from Tuesday’s performance and the previous four games continues for the Stags.
“We’re seeing that we’re sharing the ball,” Johnson said. “We’re seeing that we can make shots. We’re seeing that we’re going to play really hard. I just want to make sure those carry throughout the season.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.