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BRIDGEPORT — Last season there wouldn’t have been a critical defense stop that saved the day. Last season there wouldn’t have been a huge play at the offensive end to grab the lead with a choke hold. Last season, there wouldn’t have been a key rebound or a key steal or the mental toughness to lock down an important victory.

This season, however, there is all of that. The Fairfield Stags are growing up fast.

Sparked by freshman Curtis Cobb and sophomore Tyler Nelson and some solid supporting roles, the Stags used a game-ending 15-8 run to capture an 84-77 victory over Canisius Friday night at the Webster Bank Arena.

“There have been a lot of guys in the program who have gotten better,” Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. “There’s a lot more balance, it’s not just the Marcus Gilbert show. We’re playing as a group and obviously it makes us stronger and certainly a better team.”

This marks the second three-game win streak for the Stags (12-9, 6-5 in the MAAC) this season and it’s the fifth win in the last seven starts. It also marks the ninth time this season that Fairfield has scored 80 or more points.

“On any given night, someone can have a big night for us,” said Nelson, who scored 22 points, including a driving, underhanded scoop that gave Fairfield a 74-71 lead with 1:34 to play. “That’s the way we play. We push the ball and anyone that gets going, they could have a good game.”

Cobb had 25 to lead Fairfield while Gilbert — who had 32 against Iona — finished with 17. While just 3 of 12 from the 3-point line, Gilbert hit two key 3s and scored 11 of those 17 points in the final 4:24.

“It just shows a lot about us. We never gave up, we kept fighting,” Nelson said. “We made some big defensive stops at the end and that was the difference.”

Another difference has been the work that was put in over the summer to get this team ready for the trials of the season.

“A lot of wins have been wins where we faced adversity,” Johnson said. “Often in the second half. These guys just keep playing. It goes all the way back to the summer where we worked them all really hard. We challenged them. We gave them no breaks and they started to understand that anything good that was going to come our way, they would have to work for it.”

And against Canisius (10-12, 5-6 MAAC), the Stags worked, rallying from a 10-point deficit in the first half and a nine-point deficit in the second. Jonathan Kasibabu had nine points and nine rebounds for Fairfield while Scott King had six points and four rebounds.

Kevin Bleeker had 19 to lead Canisius while Phil Valenti had 17 and Malcolm McMillan had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

When you consider that the Stags missed 17 of 20 3-point tries and that Canisius was a perfect 14 of 14 from the free throw line in the first half, it’s amazing that Fairfield wasn’t losing by double digits. But thanks to nine points from Nelson, six from Kasibabu and five each from Gilbert and Cobb, the Stags trailed just 36-34.

Down 65-64, Gilbert hit a 3, Cobb drove for a layup and Gilbert hit a second 3 to give Fairfield a 72-69 lead. Baskets from Nelson and Gilbert made it 76-71 and the Stags went eight for eight from the line over the final 35 seconds to win.

“They made some plays down the stretch and we didn’t keep them in front,” Canisius coach Jim Baron said. “I thought Cobb was a big difference maker in the second half. He made some big shots and some big plays and that’s what it takes. Fairfield’s got guys that are stepping up.”

And growing up.

FAIRFIELD 84, CANISIUS 77

CANISIUS (10-12) — Valenti 7-11 2-2 17, Bleeker 6-9 6-7 19, McMillan 2-9 11-11 15, Douse 2-8 0-0 4, Robertson 6-12 1-1 18, Crumpton 1-5 0-2 2, Ryan 0-1 0-0 0, Atkinson 1-2 0-0 2, Reynolds 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-58 20-23 77.

FAIRFIELD (12-9) — Kasibabu 4-6 1-2 9, Gilbert 5-15 4-5 17, Segura 0-0 0-0 0, Nelson 6-12 9-9 22, Cobb 9-18 3-4 25, Johnson Jr 1-4 0-0 2, King 3-6 0-0 6, Milin 1-4 1-1 3, Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Degnan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-65 18-21 84.

Halftime — Canisius 36-34. 3-Point Goals — Canisius 7-22 (Robertson 5-9, Bleeker 1-2, Valenti 1-3, Atkinson 0-1, Crumpton 0-1, Douse 0-2, McMillan 0-4), Fairfield 8-31 (Cobb 4-9, Gilbert 3-12, Nelson 1-5, King 0-1, Milin 0-1, Johnson Jr 0-3). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Canisius 32 (McMillan 10), Fairfield 38 (Kasibabu 9). Assists — Canisius 14 (Robertson 5), Fairfield 16 (Cobb 5). Total Fouls — Canisius 20, Fairfield 19. Att: 1,008.