BRIDGEPORT -- When playing against a team coached by someone nicknamed "Bruiser," physicality might be a good component to bring to the court.
Despite giving up a few inches -- and pounds -- at every position, the Fairfield Stags more than stood their ground against James "Bruiser" Flint's Drexel Dragons. With a stifling defense and a strong performance from its three senior guards, Fairfield knocked out Drexel 69-58 in front of 1,310 fans in a non-league contest Sunday afternoon at Webster Bank Arena.
"It was kind of hard for us to get into our offense because they were picking us up and they were real aggressive with our wings trying to come off screens, so we couldn't get the ball where we needed it," said 6-foot-9 Drexel senior Daryl McCoy, who grew up in Hartford.
Credit Colin Nickerson and Derek Nickerson, in particular, for making life miserable for the Dragons (3-7). The senior backcourt went right at Drexel's guards, which not only hindered the Dragons' offensive flow, but led to some easy baskets for the Stags, who won their third straight. Needham finished with a game-high 20 points while Nickerson added 12 -- nine in the first half -- with four assists and four steals.
"I thought their energy was brilliant," Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. "Both of them had a great start, but Derek got into foul trouble, so Colin had to take over and he really bothered guys. He bothered the other team and his teammates fell in line."
When Needham left with 6:59 remaining in the first half after picking up a second foul, the Stags were trailing 17-14. When he returned with 25 seconds left in the half, Fairfield led 26-25, with Nickerson and Maurice Barrow (12 points) each converting three-point plays to help it take the lead. Needham added a layup with one second left to make it 28-25 at halftime.
"We have other people who can fill (Derek's) shoes," Nickerson said. "When he came out other people stepped up and played really aggressive on defense and offense. Desmond Wade came to play today; Amadou Sidibe and Mo hit some big shots. It's nice to have him in the game with me, but we have other players."
Wade, the third senior guard, made his presence felt in the second half, too, and finished with 15 points. Drexel took its final lead at 38-36 with 13:56 left, and then Wade helped the Stags go on a 16-1 run over the next seven minutes, 43 seconds to take a 52-39 advantage. Wade opened the run with eight straight points, including two 3-pointers, and Barrow finished it with his first 3-pointer of the season.
Fairfield shot 65 percent (13-for-20) from the field in the second half.
"They were taller than us, frontcourt and backcourt, so we just tried to get under them and bother them," said Needham, who became Fairfield's all-time leading 3-point scorer with his 231st career trey in the first half. "We stayed true to our scouting report."
The Dragons never found a way to stop the Stags, though, and never came closer than five points in the final six minutes. Damion Lee scored 15 points and Frantz Massenat added 11 while Dartaye Ruffin had 10.
"I thought Fairfield played very physical with us, and if that's the case, you have to bring the fight a little bit," said Flint, who received his nickname from his grandfather when he was a baby. "You can't just let them push you around, grab you and then look at the ref to call a foul.
"You got to be tougher."
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