WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – To comeback from an 18-point deficit, a lot of factors have to go your way. Some of those you can’t even control. But the one factor you can dictate is focus. That is what the Fairfield University Women’s Basketball team showed as they completed their biggest comeback of the season with one of the smartest plays you will see all year. Trailing by two, Kelsey Careydribbled behind the 3-point arc and shot into her defender to pick up the foul. She hit all three clutch free throws and the Stags held on for a 71-68 victory at Monmouth.
Fairfield (5-8, 2-2 MAAC) scored 42 points in the second half, which set up for many dramatic moments as the game came to a close. First, it was Kristine Miller’s prayer of a shot inside the lane that put the Stags up one. Monmouth would answer that basket by connecting on their free throws to set up a two point game with less than 30 seconds to play. After the timeout, Carey found the ball a few feet in front of the arc but had the stage of mind to dribble back and release a shot that didn’t go in, but the Stags earned all three points after the free throws.
Carey would lead the team with 20 points, but none of those points were bigger than those final three. Carey and Casey Smithboth had a big hand in completing the biggest comeback for the program in recent memory. The duo combined for 27 points in the second half, including 15 of the team’s 19 in a pivotal third quarter that brought the team within a point heading into the final period.
Fairfield had to control the pace during the final period, scoring the first seven points of the quarter in getting their first lead of the evening.
Why was that so noteworthy? Because the Stags fell behind by 18 points, their largest margin of the season early in the second quarter as the MAAC leaders in 3-pointers, Monmouth could not miss a shot from distance, hitting nine in the first half.
Those shots rained in for Monmouth (6-7, 1-3 MAAC) early as the squad connected for six 3-pointers in the first quarter. Four of those long range shots came in a three minute span and accounted for a 14-0 run for the Hawks that allowed them to take a 22-8 lead after the first 10 minutes.
While Monmouth was hitting shot after shot (6-for-11 from deep in the first quarter), the Stags could not get their momentum on the offensive front. Fairfield shot 18 percent (3-for-17) in the opening period. Samantha Cooperhit two of those field goals, including one in the final second that snapped a 0-for-8 scoring drought.
The hot shooting Hawks kept flying early in the second quarter, hitting two more treys in the first two minutes of the quarter. However, this time the Stags were able to match the home side shot for shot. Kendra Landy’s and Sam Kramer’s threes both answered back Monmouth’s triples to give the Stags offense some life.
Landy was the Stag to carry that momentum as the sophomore added an acrobatic one-handed layup and another 3-pointer to tally eight points in the quarter, besting her previous career best by three points.
That’s when the shots stopped falling for Monmouth and the Stags took advantage by posting an 8-0 run to get the game back into single digits. Kelsey Careyand Casey Smithaccounted for the final 10 points for the Stags in the half as Fairfield went into the locker room on a 10-2 run and cut the Monmouth lead to 37-29.
Aside from the offense that shot 60 percent in the second quarter, what gave the Stags the opportunity to get back in the game was their ability to rebound down the stretch. Smith grabbed eight rebounds in the first half, matching her season-high.
The shooting was the difference in the second half as Monmouth connected on just two of their 10 attempts from deep in the second half, but both shots from Kayla Shaw were big at the time and extended Monmouth’s lead in the fourth quarter.
Up and down the box score every Stag made a contribution. Smith recorded her first double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds while Cooper also tallied a double-double with 13 points and 12 boards. That marked the first time a pair of Stag teammates recorded a double-double in the same game since March 19, 2014 in the WBI at Bryant. Landy reached double figures for the first time in her career with 10 points and set a personal best with eight assists while Carey led all scorers with 20 points.
The Stags are back in action when they return home for the first time since December 2 when they host Siena in the third annual Kids Day Out game on Friday at 11am.