Niagara nips Fairfield
Updated 12:13 am, Monday, January 14, 2013
BRIDGEPORT -- Desmond Wade was just trying to make a play.
Niagara's Juan'ya Green had just missed a layup and the Fairfield guard was trying to tip the loose ball to a teammate under the basket. Instead, it went right into the hands of T.J. Cline, who tossed it in for an easy two points in the final minute that helped the Purple Eagles win 67-64 Sunday afternoon in front of 3,376 fans at the Webster Bank Arena.
Falling just short of victory has become a familiar theme for the Stags (10-8, 2-4 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), who lost their third straight game -- all in conference play. This time it came in front of a crowd that included Newtown residents who had been invited by the university to attend after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
"We are not creating our own luck," Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. "We are hurting ourselves with free throws, missed layups and we are not closing out plays defensively. I don't know if I have seen a team lose three games in a row and play the defense that we have. I just feel our defense has been outstanding."
Over that stretch, the Stags, who have the conference's second-stingiest defense, lost at Niagara 71-67 and at Loyola 63-58 in overtime prior to dropping the NU rematch. Justin Jenkins enjoyed a breakout game with 16 points, but that was the lone bright spot for the Stags, who shot 33.3 percent (8-for-24) in the second half and missed plenty of easy looks at the basket.
More InformationGlance at the game GAME MVP: Niagara's T.J. Cline scored 12 points, including what turned out to be the game-winning basket on a layup with 58 seconds left off a tip by Fairfield's Desmond Wade. THINGS CONTRIBUTING TO THE LOSS: The Stags struggled on offense, especially in the second half where they shot just 8 of 24 (33.3 percent) and misssed numerous layups. Fairfield also had free-throw trouble, making 21 of 32 attempts (65.6 percent) and turned the ball over 16 times. NU scored 20 points off the mistakes. UP NEXT: Friday, at Iona (ESPNU), 9 p.m. -- WILLIAM S. PAXTON
"We're defending but we just have to make more shots, more free throws." said Fairfield junior Maurice Barrow, who had 10 points and nine rebounds. "It's pretty tough when you are trying your hardest and it doesn't go in, but you can't sulk about it. You have to just get back on defense."
The Purple Eagles (9-8, 5-1 MAAC) shot only slightly better -- 34.5 percent (10-for-29) -- in the second half after leading 37-33 at the break. However, Antoine Mason (17 points) and his teammates hit the timely shots in a close game.
Niagara was 9-for-10 at the foul line in the final 20 minutes and took the lead for good on Green's layup with 3:35 remaining that made it 61-60. Green, who averages 17.1 points per game, was held to just five by the Stags defense, but other players like Cline (12 points) and Ameen Tanksley (10 points) stepped up.
"Any time you win on the road it's like gold," Niagara coach Joe Mihalich said. "Any time you win on the road it's an upset."
After Cline's putback gave Niagara a 65-62 lead with 55 seconds left, Wade was fouled at the other end attempting a 3-point shot. Wade missed the middle of three foul shots and Mason finished Fairfield off with two free throws at the other end. Mason was 12-for-12 at the line.
Fairfield's leading scorer Derek Needham also added 10 points for the Stags, but struggled shooting from the field at 2-for-7 and sat almost seven minutes in the second half.
"There was no message. Shoot he's the heart and soul of our team," Johnson said. "I didn't think he was in a good flow, so I decided to try a couple other guys."
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