FAIRFIELD -- The Hynes Center might seem like the last place where Derek Needham would want to return, but the Fairfield senior can't take his mind off it.

Needham's season came to an end last February in Iona's home gym when he broke his left foot in the first half against the Gaels, just two games prior to postseason play.

"That's in my head," Needham said. "I want to go look at the spot where it happened. I'm going to get taped extra (on the foot before the game).

"I've thought about it this whole week so far."

A lot has changed for the Stags (10-8, 2-4 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference) and Gaels (11-6, 5-1 MAAC) from last season, when both teams were considered the preseason favorites to win the conference, but fell short to Loyola, Md.

Fairfield, minus Needham, upset Iona in the MAAC semifinals 85-75 after being swept in the regular season.

Even though the rosters will look quite a bit different from last season when they meet Friday at 9 p.m. (ESPNU), two things remain the same -- Iona's offense and Fairfield's defense.

The Gaels lead the MAAC in scoring at 82.5 points per game and have the conference's top scorers in guards Lamont Jones (22.0 ppg) and Sean Armand (18.9 ppg).

"We need to try and slow them down, slow everyone down, so they are not so efficient getting into the 80s or 90s. (It's) something that we have to work at," said Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson, whose club lost to Niagara 67-64 last Sunday for the Stags' third straight loss after they went on a six-game win streak.

Despite the recent losses, the Stags' defense ranks second in the conference (61.6 ppg). They have allowed only one team to score more than 70 points (at Niagara, 71-67 loss) over the last 11 games.

"We make you work for your baskets," Johnson said.

When the Stags have been successful this season, the play of senior guards Desmond Wade, Colin Nickerson and Needham has led the way.

Over their six-game winning streak, the trio helped hold the opposing team's top two scoring guards -- top three against Canisius -- to a combined 20-for-102 shooting (19.6 percent) with 34 turnovers.

"Every time you play Iona, the defense is tested," Needham said. "It's another test to see is the defense better or their offense better. Hopefully, we have the better defense."

wpaxton@ctpost.com; @wspaxton