Monday, May 5, 2014

A Year In Review: Fairfield

Youth and relative inexperience caught up to Fairfield this past season, but Sydney Johnson has reason to be optimistic about Stags in 2014-15. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

We return to the lull of the offseason with yet another year in review for a MAAC program, a youthful one whose extreme makeover in the backcourt made their season a trying one for the most part, but left all surrounding it confident in what lies ahead.

For the past three years, Fairfield University had positioned itself among the MAAC elite going into the 2013-14 season, with a regular season conference championship and appearances in both the National Invitation and Tournaments to show for it. The maintenance of the status quo was enough to silence those who had questioned whether the transition from Ed Cooley to Sydney Johnson would be seamless enough to keep the Stags in the top half of the conference. Yet when Fairfield's entire backcourt needed to be replaced going into this year's campaign, the Stags were not going to get anything easy.

An exhibition loss to Division II Bridgeport may have been a harbinger of things to come as Fairfield prepared for life without Derek Needham, Desmond Wade, Colin Nickerson and Keith Matthews, as the Stags dropped eight straight after their season-opening Connecticut 6 victory over Sacred Heart. Entering their January 18th contest against Manhattan at 3-14, and winless in seven MAAC games, Fairfield scored their game of a lifetime, nearly leading wire-to-wire against the eventual league champion Jaspers, building an advantage that was as high as 19 points en route to a 71-67 victory. Sadly, only three more wins followed as the Stags finished 7-25, with their final appearance being an overtime loss to Saint Peter's in the opening round of the MAAC tournament, marking the third defeat to the Peacocks on the year, each of which coming on a game-winning three-pointer by Desi Washington.

Despite the lack of results in their record, Fairfield did receive significant contributions from a number of sources, namely swingman Maurice Barrow, who averaged 14 points per game off the bench on his way to a second straight MAAC Sixth Man of the Year award. Fellow wing Marcus Gilbert chipped in with 14 points of his own per contest, including connecting on a team-leading 73 three-pointers at a 37 percent clip. Freshman point guard K.J. Rose also showed promise leading the offense, doing so to the tune of eight points and 3.5 assists per game as Sydney Johnson intimated that the Stags' youth forced everyone to reveal their talents and step up at any given moment, especially after an injury-plagued sophomore season from Amadou Sidibe and a work in progress for Gilbert's brother Malcolm, who transferred from Pittsburgh.

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