BRIDGEPORT - Marcus Gilbert and the Fairfield Stags wanted to make a statement.

And they did. A very big one.

Sparked by Gilbert’s 32 points — his third 30-plus point game of the season — the Stags jumped out to a commanding lead and survived every Iona comeback in a 98-91 victory over the MAAC-leading Gaels before 1,278 Sunday afternoon at the Webster Bank Arena.

Fairfield’s win marked the first time in six meetings, and only the third time in the last 12 dating back to the 2010-11 season, that the Stags defeated the Gaels. And when asked if this was a “statement” win for the program, Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson didn’t hesitate to say yes.

“Certainly. Iona’s been a very good team over the last few years, ever since I’ve gotten into the league and so for us to re-establish ourselves,” Johnson said. “We know we’re making tremendous forward progress and this (win) certainly is a mark of that. To beat one of the better teams in our league, if not the best team, absolutely, it was a step forward today.”

Tyler Nelson had 22 points and Scott King Jr. added 11 as all 10 Fairfield players that got into the game, scored. But it was Gilbert that led the attack, hitting three straight 3s to open the game and finishing just one point away from his career high. He hit 7 of 10 from 3-point range, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out four assists.

Not bad for someone who, in his previous seven games against Iona, averaged just 5.3 points.

“Definitely this a statement win,” Gilbert said. “We haven’t beaten them in a long time. I think the last time we beat them was in my freshman year. This is a great win for us.”

“I’m really happy for Marcus because of how much he’s given to the program,” Johnson said. “He’s worked so hard and he’s been a really good role model for everyone else in terms of how hard he works and how he makes everyone else ‘buy in.’ He’s a really coachable kid. He’s deserving.”

The Stags exploded out of the box and opened a 20-4 lead just five minutes in, but Iona never disappeared, not with Jordan Washington scoring 22 of his career-high 33 points in the first half. Thanks to Washington, the Gaels trailed just 50-42 at the break.

Two 3-pointers from Gilbert, along with another from Jerome Segura, pushed the Fairfield lead to 62-45 with 16:47 to play, but Iona went on a 20-6 run to pull within 68-65 with 11:45 left. But instead of folding, Fairfield got tougher, using a 12-2 burst to take an 80-67 lead with 9:08 to play. Iona never got closer than five the rest of the way.

“They came out of the gates really hot. They were sharing the ball really well and making shots,” Iona coach Tim Cluess said. “We kept trying to get back into the game, but every time we needed like, one more stop to really make it tight, they came up with a nice play. They did what they needed to do.”

The last time the Stags and Gaels got together back on Dec. 1 in New Rochelle, N.Y., A.J. English went crazy, knocking down 13 3-pointers, scoring 46 points and leading Iona to a 101-77 victory. But this time, Fairfield’s defense held English to just 16 points and 2 of 8 on 3-pointers. Isaiah Williams scored 22 for Iona.

“They were keying on him (English) and sending two guys out on him,” Cluess said. “In that situation, other guys have to step up and, although Washington did a nice job, we missed way too many foul shots (Iona was 22 of 37). If we make our fouls shots, it’s a different game.”

The win was the 11th for the Stags and improves them to 5-5 in the MAAC, solid improvements for a team that was just 7-24 last season.

“We wanted to play hard today and our guys are learning that we need to play hard for 40 minutes,” Johnson said. “We need to be locked in and have to take every possession seriously.”

celsberry@ctpost.com; @elsctpost/Twitter.com

FAIRFIELD 98, IONA 91

IONA (10-9)

English 5-14 4-10 16, Much 2-6 0-0 6, Williams 8-14 2-2 22, Rountree 2-6 0-0 4, Hines 0-0 0-0 0, McGill 0-0 0-0 0, Muhammad 2-2 1-2 6, Proctor 0-0 0-2 0, Bessick 1-4 2-3 4, Washington 10-19 13-18 33. Totals 30-65 22-37 91.

FAIRFIELD (11-9)

Segura 3-5 0-0 7, Nelson 8-15 4-5 22, Kasibabu 2-3 2-3 6, Gilbert 9-15 7-9 32, Cobb 4-9 1-2 9, Johnson Jr 2-3 0-0 5, King 5-9 1-1 11, Milin 0-1 2-2 2, Johnson 1-1 0-0 2, Degnan 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 35-64 17-22 98.

Halftime—Fairfield 50-42. 3-Point Goals—Iona 9-26 (Williams 4-10, Much 2-6, English 2-8, Muhammad 1-1, Rountree 0-1), Fairfield 11-24 (Gilbert 7-10, Nelson 2-6, Johnson Jr 1-1, Segura 1-2, Cobb 0-2, King 0-3). Fouled Out—Much. Rebounds—Iona 43 (Washington 12), Fairfield 34 (Gilbert 10). Assists—Iona 15 (Rountree 5), Fairfield 21 (Segura 7). Total Fouls—Iona 22, Fairfield 23. Attendance—1,278.