BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It has been almost a year since the Fairfield men’s basketball team finished with a 7-25 record, going 4-16 in MAAC play, and in that time, the Stags have made plenty of strides.
But there is still a lot more work to be done.
“Layups, free throws, wide-open shots,” said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson before making his way out of the Brooklyn Nets press conference room at Barclays Center after his team’s 61-59 overtime loss to Loyola Maryland.
Both teams entered the game with records below .500 — the Greyhounds at 3-7 and the Stags 4-7, respectively.
Despite having similar records, the Stags entered the game more than confident that they were going to corral the Greyhounds and enter conference play with another notch in the win column.
“Disappointed about the final result, but to play in this type of arena and have this type of exposure is pretty special, so it’s bittersweet,” said Johnson. “A great opportunity, but obviously one we felt slipped away in terms of the final result.”
The nature in which the Stags fell may have added a little bit of extra sting, as Loyola-Maryland guard Tyler Hubbard continued his stellar afternoon by making an acrobatic play along the baseline, saving the ball for an offensive rebound and tossing it to his forward Franz Rassman under the hoop for a layup that would fall with 0.9 seconds left in overtime.
The Stags held the lead for 23 minutes and 43 seconds to be exact, versus the 12:55 Loyola led and 8:22 the game was tied. During the small Loyola-Maryland runs that created such a tight game, the Stags could have imploded and let the Greyhounds run away with the game, forcing Johnson to call for better leadership from older players.
“There were a couple of times where I had to remind them how to stay together, and quite frankly I shouldn’t be doing that,” said Johnson. “Our experienced guys need to take the lead on that, and I think they will, moving forward.”
Following the game, Johnson harped on the effort put in by his team, which has now seen four of its 12 games go into overtime.
“Last two out of three games, we’ve struggled, so I can’t tell you about the overtime, I have no idea what the future holds, but I want to see my team compete this way every time we take the floor,” said Johnson when asked about the number of overtime games played.
But for all his team’s struggles with effort, Johnson’s team also struggled with execution as the stat sheet told the story of the game: Fairfield shot 34.5 percent from the field, making 19-of-55 field goals. They shot only 23.5 percent (4-17) from beyond the arc and 63 percent (17-27) from the stripe.
According to Johnson, the Stags need to go back to basics and work their way up from there.
“We’ll be able to reward ourselves, but that’s not easy, we have to work at it, we have to be mentally strong, and that’s where the regrouping part will come,” said Johnson, adding, “We have talent. We have some cohesion. We got to make sure that shows up in tough moments and that test will be next time we take the floor, against Siena.”