FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The Fairfield fans at Alumni Hall almost had a moment of déjà vu. After a heartbreaking loss to Monmouth that included 5-1 run in the closing seconds, Niagara almost pulled off another improbable comeback. And they might have, if it wasn’t for Kristine Miller. The senior blocked a 3-point attempt that would have given Niagara a one-point lead with four seconds left to help the Stags to a 66-63 win over Niagara. The Purple Eagles still had one last shot to beat the buzzer after the Stags split their free throws, but the long range shot by Jamie Sherburne hit the right side of the rim to seal Fairfield’s win.
“It was obvious that the team did not want a repeat to that Monmouth game,” Head Coach Joe Fragersaid. “Give Niagara a world of credit for their comeback but like I told our team ‘we won.’ So let’s get out of here and be happy with the win and try and learn from some of the mistakes we made.”
That Niagara (5-16, 2-10 MAAC) comeback came with just 6:33 left in the game and after Fairfield (10-11, 7-5 MAAC) took a 14-point lead, their largest of the contest. After that jumper by Kelsey Carey, the Purple Eagles would not surrender another field goal for five minutes as the squad went on a 14-2 run to close the deficit to within two. After both teams traded layups, the Purple Eagles had a chance with 18 seconds left and with the ball. Victoria Rampado found herself open for a 3-point attempt, but Miller bounced out of the paint to tip the shot, which gave the Stags possession back. Fairfield would split their free throws, giving Niagara another chance for magic, but this time the game-tying shot hit the side of the rim.
The late block by Miller was not the only time the senior had a hand in this win. For the first time all season, the Stags had to find to win a game without their two leading scorers Carey and Casey Smithplaying significant minutes in the first half. With foul trouble, the two combined to play only 12 minutes in the first half, but the Fairfield bench with Miller and Khadidiatou Dioufstepped up in their absence. Miller started the second quarter with two traditional 3-point plays in the span of 45 seconds, which tied the game at 17-17. Diouf also hit a jumper three minutes later, her third field goal of the game. The Stags had other contributors in the scoring column during those crucial 20 minutes, including Macey Hollensheadwho notched four points in the second quarter. Miller, however, was the reason why the Stags went into the halftime only trailing by two as she put up eight points in the second frame.
“She really played with a passion and a desire in that quarter,” Frager said. “We weren’t going to let this one get away from us today, and she really stepped up.”
“I think that was my mindset, that the bench needed to step up,” Miller said. “I needed to pick it up because we were having foul trouble. It was real important for me to do that and give our team the spark it needed.”
The reinforcements for the Stags, Carey and Smith, returned in the third quarter and immediately had their presence felt, combining for 14 points in the third frame, as the Stags outscored Niagara 26-14 in that span. Casey Foley broke a 33-33 tie with a 3-pointer, marking the final time the Stags would not be in the lead. The Stags opened a 12-point lead at the end of the third quarter and led by as many as 14 before holding on for the win.
Carey led all Fairfield players with 20 points, 18 of those coming in the second half. It was the sixth time this season that Carey has reached the 20-point mark. Samantha Cooper filled out the box score with 13 points, six rebounds, and a team-high five assists without a turnover. Foley was the leader on the defensive front, tying a career-high with three steals, the fourth time this year she has reached that mark.
Preseason All-MAAC First Team selection, Rampado led all scorers with 26 points, the only Niagara player in double figures.
The Stags will look to build on this win when they host Quinnipiac on Thursday at 5pm at the Webster Bank Arena.