BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Tonight, you could throw a dart at the game program and you would be guaranteed of it landing on a player that made a contribution in the Fairfield University men's basketball team win over Niagara University. Five different Stags reached double figures and seven different student-athletes had at least one assist for a team total of 25 assists.
"We got our mojo back," Head Coach Sydney Johnson said. "We are sharing the ball, we are defending really well and we are just behaving like a team both on and off the court. It's a lot of fun to be around and I'm certainly proud to be coaching this group especially when I see them working so hard together."
Jerry Johnson Jr. led all scorers with 18 points, while Tyler Nelson posted his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 assists. Amadou Sidibe netted 16 points, his best scoring game since his season-high 19 points against Army West Point. Curtis Cobb made five of eight three pointers on his way to 15 points and Deniz Celen registered his first career double-digit performance with 10 points.
"You usually see a little better play from your younger guys later in the season as they get adjusted to the transition of college basketball," Johnson said. "It's our veteran guys that I lean on more earlier in the season. It's nice that Deniz and the younger guys are contributing. I just like that I have a full team that I can call on and that's important especially in conference play. It's something that is really nice to have as a coach."
As has been the theme during this current home stand, the Stags' defense played a role in this win as well. Fairfield forced 15 Niagara turnovers, seven of which came off steals, which the Stags converted into 27 points.
"Our success started a lot with the defense," Johnson said. "Our defense triggers some things that allowed us to get out in transition. Niagara has had some very good wins this year so I am happy to see us maintain a high level of defensive intensity against a very good opponent."
While Fairfield did not lead wire-to-wire tonight as it had in many of its most recent victories, the Stags were able to overcome an early deficit against Niagara and take control by the midpoint of the first half.
The Stags trailed by an 11-7 score in the opening four minutes but Nelson single-handedly erased that lead with a layup and a three-point field goal that gave Fairfield a 12-11 edge with 14:18 remaining and started a 10-0 run. Cobb added the first of his five three pointers to push the lead to four points at 15-11 which was followed by a pair of free throws from Sidibe.
Fairfield’s lead reached nine points midway through the first half at 24-15 before Niagara outscored the Stags by a 12-4 count to bring the lead back to one point, 28-27 with just under six minutes left. Once again, Fairfield used a string of points, this time nine straight, to build the lead to its biggest to that point at 37-27 at the 2:51 mark. The Stags went into the locker room up 12 points, courtesy of a buzzer beating layup from Deniz Celen that made the score 43-31.
The double-digit lead stayed with the Stags for most of the second half with the exception of Niagara coming within nine points on three occasions, the last of which was 58-49 at the 9:25 mark. Cobb’s three pointer and Sidibe’s dunk regained the double-figure lead for Fairfield and the Purple Eagles would come no closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
Fairfield looks to complete a sweep of its four-game home stand on Monday night when it hosts Quinnipiac University at Webster Bank Arena. Game time is 7 pm.