HARTFORD -- Keith Matthews might be the quietest player in the Fairfield locker room, but he was right in the middle of the action when it mattered Saturday night.
With 2.3 seconds left in overtime, Matthews made the first of two free-throw attempts and freshman Marcus Gilbert rebounded the second to seal a 64-63 win over Central Connecticut State in front of 3,186 fans in the Connecticut 6 at the University of Hartford's Chase Arena.
"I needed one," said Matthews, who tied a career high with 15 points. "Two seconds left and I knew if I could get one, I could pretty much ice the game. I took a deep breath, was confident and let the first one go. It went in."
Fairfield is 4-0 in the Connecticut 6.
Derek Needham, playing with painful cramps most of the second half and in OT, led the Stags (1-0) with 18 points and a career-high eight rebounds. Matthews added 15 points and seven boards. Freshman Josip Mikulic had 12 points with eight rebounds in his debut, and Colin Nickerson added 10 points.
The Stags needed every last point, too, to fend off a young Central squad (0-1) that refused to let up, and also needed that big rebound from Gilbert to seal it.
"I was happy (Matthews missed) because the clock started running," Needham said. "Marcus went up for it, not that many people could jump for it, and I'm so happy he got the offensive rebound."
Both squads were injecting a hearty amount of youth into their lineups, and the first half turned into a game of runs before Fairfield grabbed a 34-31 lead at the break. Mikulic had nine points in the half and Needham added eight as Fairfield shot 50 percent from the floor (14-for-28).
CCSU sophomore Kyle Vinales had 12 of his 18 points in the half, but managed just six points the rest of the way on 8-of-23 shot attempts. Among Vinales' misses were a potential game-winning layup with about six seconds left in regulation.
"They made me force a lot of shot," Vinales said. "They frustrated me. ¦ They did a good job of playing D."
After a wild first half, neither team could muster much offense in the second half. With 7:39 left in regulation, both teams had only scored nine points in the half and Fairfield clung to a 43-40 lead.
Central used a 9-2 run to take a 49-45 advantage, but Needham sank a two-pointer and Nickerson would later add a 3-pointer to make it 51-50 with about three minutes remaining.
Central led 55-52 with 1:56 left, but a Needham foul shot and later Matthews' basket with 1:00 left tied it at 55, where it stayed at the buzzer.
Central led 61-57 early in OT, but Fairfield came back -- with 3-pointers from Needham and Mikulic -- before Matthews' winning free throw.
"I'm just proud of these guys that they stuck with it," Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. "We are going to have, I hope, a lot more games like these where it is grind it out and we have a chance."
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