Marcus Gilbert's 20 points led Fairfield past Saint Peter's and into semifinals of MAAC tournament as Stags, who were swept by Peacocks in regular season, prevailed in 64-55 victory. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
ALBANY, NY -- Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson frequently insists his program's future is bright when he takes to social media to update fans on the progress of the Stags.
His team's present is equally as promising, as Fairfield (19-12) stands two wins away from the NCAA Tournament following Saturday's 64-55 victory over a Saint Peter's team that had swept them in the regular season, avenging the two losses to the Peacocks (14-16) by eliminating them from the quarterfinals of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament.
"I was just looking to be aggressive," said Marcus Gilbert, who scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half as the Stags established control throughout the evening, maintaining a double-digit lead for the majority of the contest. "I just happened to get open shots, and I just happened to knock them down."
Tyler Nelson added 15 points for the Stags, while freshman Matija Milin came within a rebound of a double-double, registering ten points and nine boards. Quadir Welton's 16 points and 10 caroms paced the Peacocks in the losing effort, while Trevis Wyche and Antwon Portley contributed 13 and 11 markers, respectively.
Fairfield led by as many as 16 points in the second half, but a 15-4 Saint Peter's run brought them back into the game with 4:44 remaining in regulation. The fourth-seeded Peacocks pulled within three after Portley buried a jump shot with 65 seconds on the clock, but a Gilbert three-pointer from the right corner on the ensuing possession served as the dagger for the fifth-seeded Stags, who reached the semifinals for the first time since 2013, when they fell to Manhattan.
"We lost to a good team tonight," said Saint Peter's head coach John Dunne. "They came out with a fire and an energy about them tonight that really was impressive. I don't feel that we matched that energy until, maybe 10 minutes or so in the game, and by then it was a little too late."
"It's been a great journey for our team," he elaborated, recounting that the Peacocks were picked ninth in the MAAC's preseason poll. "We have nothing to be ashamed about, but at the end of the day, from where this team came from early in the year, from not knowing how to win games to winning 12 MAAC games in conference, was fun to watch. I can't be more proud of these guys."
With their win, Fairfield takes on top-seeded Monmouth in the semifinals, looking to avenge a regular season sweep for the second day in a row. Of importance will be the Stags' short turnaround from a late game Saturday night before Sunday's 4:30 tipoff, but that was of no consequence to the victors on this night.
"Fatigue is the last thing on our minds," said Nelson. "I think we have a great opportunity to go out there and play against the best team in the league right now, so I don't think anyone's going to complain about being tired. We're going to go home, get some rest, watch some film, and we'll wake up fired up tomorrow, ready to go."