Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Seven Stories - Dec. 30th

While the world waits for the the ball (and the curtain) to drop on 2008 - and Stags' fans salivate over the upcoming Siena showdown in Albany on Thursday - here's a post to pass the time featuring what I've been reading today:

Friday, December 26, 2008

UConn Game Post Game Notes

A couple of notes from the postgame press conferences.

From Fairfield players ... Greg Nero said it was difficult to play inside because every time he turned he still had the height right there on him and if he was able to get past one guy, there was another waiting for him ... Jon Han said that the Huskies have a "swagger" which "they deserve" because they are the number two team in the country. According to him the Stags are still looking for that swagger, but have it in a different way. He said the Stags are now focused on Siena and starting another win streak. He said the Stags like to play on the road and are well prepared to by playing road games like at Memphis and this one at UConn, so they will not be intimidated at Siena.

From Fairfield head coach Ed Cooley ... Cooley was not angry, but seemed a bit disappointed. He said that he is happy he will not have to see height like that again this season. As for Siena, as far as he knows, "Hasheem Thabeet has never walked out of their locker room." ... He said that the Stags were "beat up" inside ... Warren Edney has a sore achilles which has bothered him for two weeks and acted up during the first half.

From UConn head coach Jim Calhoun .. "Fairfield came in very well prepare defensively. I knew they ran good stuff, but defensively they really kind of stopped us from getting into any kind of motion, any kind of flow, that we would really like to do." ... He said that Greg Nero is "tough" and that Anthony Johnson is a "Big East athlete" who needs to learn to play offensively a little better ... Said that along with Niagara and Siena, the Stags are poised to make a run to the NCAA tournament ... Said that the Stags played tougher than even the Buffalo Bulls, who nearly upset UConn earlier this season.

-Tom Cleary

Fairfield vs. UConn Live Blog

Back... just in time.

As the leftovers make their rounds and the eggnog begins to wear off, remember that the Mirror Sports Blog is the place to be for round-the-clock coverage of the Stags in-state showdown against second ranked Connecticut tonight at XL Center in Hartford (still feels odd to type that, doesn't it?)

If you are among the unlucky few who can't make the trip (or are still at holiday family parties - myself included), pull up Santa's rocking chair and listen to Bob Huessler/follow Tom Cleary on our 'Cover it Live' tonight. I know that's what I'll be doing.

In the meantime, here are a few links for this evening:
  • Double the coverage from the CT Post. When we last left the Stags twelve days ago, Peanut Johnson and Greg Nero each recorded a double-double, as Fairfield edged Drexel. A few days earlier, "Late game" Lyndon drained a three in the game's waning seconds to take down Fordham. As William Paxton writes, between monumental finishes, a marquee opponent in the team's opener, and a preseason tourney, the spotlight is nothing new for this team.
  • As for Jim Calhoun's take: "This is probably the best in-state team we will face going back the past eight to 10 years and they have seniors and juniors in their lineup that are experienced and have played against us in this environment, so they will not be intimidated."
  • An even more revealing quote from Calhoun in Mike Anthony's game story in the Courant: "(Fairfield) is a classic trap game". Anthony points out that, following the game against the Stags tonight, UConn has four games against Big East opponents, including a three-game road swing against West Virginia, Cincinnati, and St. John's. Couple that with the overtime win over Gonzaga - a definitive moment for this team - and maybe there's something to this trap game thing. That is, if Fairfield is up to the task...
  • Game Notes: The Hartford Courant; Fairfield SID

More to come.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A trip down memory lane...

Only a year ago, poor Bob Huessler was getting ragged on by the now defunct New York radio tandem, 'Mike and the Mad Dog,' about the sorry state of Farifield athletics and an ugly, ugly loss to Yale.

Hearing Mad Dog's "Was it 2-2?" quip brought me back - but it also made me think about how sweet it is has been in '09.

Seven straight heading into Christmas break? I'll take it, regardless of how close some of them were. It wasn't all that long ago that we were heading to the break losers of five straight (last year), or without a victory in Cooley's rookie season and hearing how the only positive was that the assistant coaches were well-dressed.

What a difference a year makes.

A little national attention

Seven straight wins does more than build confidence; it turns heads. The Bleacher Report did a round-up of the first half of the MAAC season and named Niagara and Fairfield as the top threats to the Saints' conference crown. "As for Fairfield, they have won seven consecutive games and are the hottest team in the MAAC."

I know they have played a brutal OOC schedule - including last night's game against Pitt - but as good as the Saints are, it's apparent at this point that they're not bulletproof.

My favorite line from the article: "The Harbor Yard Arena is always a difficult place to play in the conference, and the Stags are already 5-0 in Bridgeport this season."

Ah, Harbor Yard - right up there with the Dean Dome and Cameron Indoor.

All Apologies

As the craziness of exams come to a close, we here at Mirror Sports can finally get back to doing what we do best: covering Fairfield basketball. Not much as changed since we last left you on Sunday afternoon - but we'll have no shortage of updates over the winter recess.

In addition to Tom's 'Cover it Live' blog from Hartford for the Stags in-state showdown against UConn, I'll be covering the team's road games at Iona and at West Point. It's always cool to take a trip to the Military Academy, a humbling experience to say the least. I'm not sure if the game will be any decent, but the visuals alone and its proximity to my home in northern NJ are worth the trip.

Tom and I are also going to get back to our old routine of MAAC coverage. T.C. will do an occasional 'State of the MAAC', and I'm going to bring back the '2-3 Zone,' our weekly conference rankings.

Plenty of look forward to in the weeks ahead.


In the meantime, if you haven't done so already, check out old pal Ben Doody's Trentonian blog. The prodigy has done great stuff this year covering Rider and the occasional Rutgers game. I mean, you can't get more creative than coming up with a MAAC rankings index and coverage of Elise Young on MTV's 'Double Shot of Love'. Great stuff, Ben

Monday, December 15, 2008

Random Fairfield Notes

A few quick notes during a break from studying for exams.

Anthony 'Peanut' Johnson named Co-MAAC Player of the Week

Johnson and Manhattan's Chris Smith, were named the MAAC Players of the Week after a 2-0 week for Fairfield and a Jaspers win over Princeton in which Smith scored a career-high.

Johnson, a 6-8 forward, averaged 11.5 points per game and 14.5 rebounds in the Stags victories over Fordham and Drexel. Peanut grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds in Fairfield's win over Drexel this past Sunday, also scoring 14 points. Against the Rams last Thursday he scored nine points and ripped down 13 boards.

Smith, brother of the Denver Nuggets' guard J.R. Smith, scored a career-high 35 points in the Jaspers win over Princeton in what could be a breakout game. Coming into the season I expected Smith to be one of the top players in the MAAC. He had a great end to last season and is the go to player for the Jaspers, who are 5-3 overall this season and 1-1 in conference.

Stags earn votes again in Mid-Major Top 25

For the second straight week the Stags earned votes in the collegeinsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll, earning 72 votes, putting them in 27th place. Fairfield is trailing Niagara, who earned 90 votes to place 26th.

-Tom Cleary

Stags hold on to defeat Drexel, win seventh consecutive game

by Tom Cleary

Bridgeport – It was a familiar story for the Stags on Sunday. A game that comes down to the wire. But this time one thing was different. Fairfield made its free throws.

After poor shooting from the free throw line nearly cost the Stags against Fordham on Thursday and Iona last Sunday, they made 7-of-8 shots from the charity stripe down the stretch to wrap up a 66-60 victory over Drexel (2-3, 0-1 Colonial Athletic Association).

With the win the Stags (8-3, 2-0 Metro Atlantic Athletic Association) extended their win streak to seven games, for the third time in head coach Ed Cooley’s three seasons, the first time any coach has accomplished that feat in Fairfield history. Last season Fairfield beat Drexel 60-51 in Philadelphia on Feb. 23 as part of ESPN’s BrackeBuster event. That win also came as part of a seven game win streak for the Stags.

The Stags are now off for finals until their Dec. 26 match up against Connecticut at the XL Center in Hartford. For Cooley and his squad, it is a much-needed break.

"Everybody on the floor looked, not basketball tired, but like 'Coach lets get this game over so we can start studying,' " said Cooley, whose team has played 11 games in a month. "That's what I saw in them, to be honest with you, but it was another good team win."

Junior forward Anthony Johnson led the way for the Stags with a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing career-high 16 rebounds. Senior point guard Jonathan Han chipped in 12 points and seven assists, while junior forward Greg Nero also had a double-double, scoring 11 and securing 11 rebounds.

"We knew we needed this one," Han said. "We knew we had a long break and a lot of practices coming up and we wanted to keep this streak alive. We started a little slow today, but we picked it up and had help from the bench."

The Stags never trailed in the game and were only tied twice, the last time coming at 6-6 with 15:07 remaining in the first half. Fairfield opened up a 10 point lead in the first half when Han knocked down a three-pointer with just over eight minutes left, but Drexel was able to cut the deficit to six, 32-26, heading into the break.

Johnson nearly had a double-double in the first half, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

The Stags had control of the game for most of the second half, never letting the Dragons within four points until the 6:27 mark when Tramayne Hawthorne hit a three-pointer to make it 51-48. But Fairfield opened the lead back up to seven with 3:30 to play in the game and then Drexel cut the lead to one, 61-60, on an Evan Neisler layup with 31.7 seconds left.

Fairfield made 5-of-6 free throws in the next 30 seconds to seal the victory.

“I am very happy with the result,” Cooley said. “The [Puerto Rico tournament] came into effect, we were resilient and didn’t fold. We have played some tough teams, Virginia Tech, Missouri, even Chattanooga.

“We have a veteran group which is fun to coach. I don’t have to get as worried as I had to the past two years.”

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The slide continues...

A season ago, first-year head coach Joe Frager rode senior guard Sabra Wrice and a talented returning roster to a stunning start to the season; the Stags won seven of the team's first eight games and the transition to Frager seemed transparent. 

What a difference a  year makes. 

Last night, the Stags dropped their second consecutive game (and third in the team's last four) to Mount St. Mary's, 66-59. Fairfield's record currently stands at 4-5; through nine games last season, Fairfield held a 6-3 record. Baendu Lowenthal totaled 23 points in the loss. Here's a link to the Connecticut Post's game story from Emmitsburg

It's still awfully early to draw any judgments, but it is clear that the post-Wrice growing pains are certainly beginning to show.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rob Sisca and Brandon Davis leaving men's basketball program

According to a press release sent out by sports information today, junior redshirt forward Rob Sisca and freshman forward Brandon Davis are both leaving the men's basketball program. Neither player has been with the team for the past few games.
Sisca plans to remain at the University to continue his goal of graduating with a degree in communications, while Davis, who has missed the entire season recovering for a knee injury is hoping to transfer to a school closer to his home in South Carolina.
“I appreciate the time and effort that Rob and Brandon put forth during their time with our program,” head coach Ed Cooley said. “As a coach, I always want what is best for my student athletes. If Rob and Brandon feel this is what is right for them, than I fully support them in their decision. I know that both young men will be successful in whatever they choose in the future.”

Both players were expected to contribute this season and it is disappointing to see them leave before their careers really start. According to Cooley earlier this season, Davis has chronic knee problems which have really been a problem for him in practice. He still has a great future if he can get healthy and it will be interesting to see where he will land.

-Tom Cleary

Friday, December 5, 2008

Final from Harbor Yard: 76-56 FU

  • YOUR FINAL: Fairfield 76, St. Peter's 56
  • C.J. Reid makes it a respectable twenty point spread, but the Stags dribble the ball out and end the game.
  • Traore knocks down a hook shot that somehow found its way over Olander. Turner hits a shot on the other end to answr.
  • SPC is forced to take another timeout after Farifield presses hard on the in-bound. "Good job!" Cooley yells.
  • Dunne calls for one last timeout to soak it all in. 74-52 Fairfield
  • Now Lyndon Jordan drains a twenty-foooter from a step inside the arc, and the Stags' bench erupts again. If somehow we could get "Big Baby" Brandon Davis into the game and score, we'd have the ultimate tri-fecta.
  • Olander feeds Grzeck a pretty lob pass, and Seanie knocks it in off the glass. Great, great look - and Fairfield extends the lead back to twenty.
  • O'Sullivan hits a three! Khalil Mumford (another MAAC name of the year possibility) answers on the other end. 70-50.
  • Jimmy O'Sullivan - Cooley's self-professed "victory cigar" - checks in for Sean Crawford. Light 'em up, Red. 67-47 FU.
  • Brandon Hall uses the glass and deflects a shot from the post in. SPC has scored an awful lot this half... compared to their 40.7% in the first (2-of-9 from three). 67-43 Stags.
  • Sean Grzeck nails a three - a sure sign you know it is a good night to be a Stag. 67-41 Fairfield.
  • Yorel Hawkins gets a great feed from Ryan Olander (seems like I've been typing his name a lot in a short amount of time). Truth be told, though, it was a great job of ball movement all the way down the floor, especially from Evanvoich (who passed up an open three) and Crawford (who drove the lane and dished a pass out to Olander). Fairfield leads, 64-39 with 5:49 to go.
  • Ryan Olander blocks a Jenkins' offering on a drive. He may still be raw, but his sheer size alone will be enough to get him consistent playing time, and make life a lot easier for Cooley in tight games when fouls become troublesome. The option of going to Olander and Mike Evanovich - two above-average sized forwards - off the bench is exciting.
  • Evanovich hits the shot, despite dribbling and making a step. We'll let it go, Mike - just don't let that whole dribbling thing happen again. 58-37 Stags.
  • Han and Herbie pull a give-and-go-and-give that spins Wesley Jenkins in every which way. Fairfield has looked markedly better running the floor and in transition thus far in '08-'09. They'll need to be to compete with the likes of Siena. 56-37 Stags.
  • Han calls Evanovich's shot before it even hits the basket: "Good look, Mike". Nice pass, too, Mr. Han. The Stags extend the lead to 19.
  • A nice pair of defensive series for Fairfield brings us to the media timeout --> 51-33 Fairfield.
  • St. Peter's last names: Bacon, Gooding, Jenkins, Leon, Hall, Reid, Costner, Hill - basically out of central casting for any stereotype basketball movie. All you need is Gene Hackman on the sidelines and you're there.
  • Ismalia Traore, an early candidate for my favorite name in the MAAC, is called for 'over-the-back' on the other side of the floor. Stags ball up 16.
  • The crowd gives a Ron Burgundy-esque chant at an official who calls a hold on Warren Edney, who managed a nice move in Fairfield's half-court trap defense. 16 point lead? Are you not entertained?
  • 'Thriller' by Michael Jackson from the FU pep band. Why am I excited? 1) it's a new song for the band, which is a rarity in these parts, and 2) they finally listened to the pages and pages of letters I've sent them begging them to learn an M.J. song. At last...
  • Media timeout after the two teams exchange turnovers --> 47-31 Stags
  • After the break, the Stags deploy a pretty full-court press that St. Peter's barely figures out before the violation. Ed Cooley implores the bench to give a polite golf clap in recognition.
  • Han buries a three-point basket and the tags take a 47-30 lead. You took the words right out of my mouth, Mr. Fitzpatrick
  • Cooley pulls a little Ralph Kramden on the sidelines as Peanut boots what would've been a wide-open dunk attempt into the stands. Rough night, eh Coach?
  • Foul on Jordan Costner on a three-and-one fastbreak. Edney to the line to shoot two.
  • Herbie pulls an Evanovich (just catch-and-shoot) and drains a trey. Nicely done, sir. 42-27 Fairfield.

Halftime at the Harbor: 39-25 FU

  • Edney's half court heave? Just a bit outside...
  • Han adds insult to injury by draining a trey from the far corner after what appeared to be a nice defensive showing from St. Peter's on the other end of the floor.
  • Speak of the devil, Nero uses his size in the paint and grabs another offensive rebound. He misses the put-back, but draws a whistle and heads to the line to shoot a pair.
  • A.J. draws a foul underneath. Nice job so far by the Stags of using their size and ensuring high-percentage shots: Peanut is already well on his way to another 20-point game.
  • SPC Timeout --> 36-20 Fairfield
  • John Dunne has seen enough after three straight alley-oops. The third was a five-on-one oop from Han to Peanut that he slammed down with authority. I'm no Dean Smith, but I'm pretty sure that it should never, ever be five-on-one in transition in a basketball game.
  • Stat of the Day: John Dunne's cumulative record in two-plus years as head coach: 12-53
  • SPC has narrowed the gap to ten. I have to say, I'm impressed they didn't roll over. 28-16 as we speak with a little under four to play in the first.
  • "Your Fairfield University dance team" does a nice little rendition of 'Womanizer' by Brittney Spears. Why do I mention it? Not that it wasn't good (it was), but that Tom and I will be hearing that song all year long at Harbor Yard. Trust me on this one - they'll never change the song.
  • Media timeout --> 24-12 Fairfield, 6:08 in the first
  • And they've hit double-digits. Only took 13+ minutes.
  • Turner and Herbie Allen in the backcourt. We've heard from multiple people they are trying to run thre offendsde more thruogh Herbie in order to keep Jon Han fresh and more involved in the offense (a.k.a. putting him at two-guard when he's in the lineup). From the looks of it, Cooley finally has that luxury due to far greater depth than he's ever had since he's been on North Benson Road.
  • On the other side of the floor, Costner tries to draw a charge from Greg Nero, but the Foot Lockers call a block on him. Looks like it probably could have gone either way, but when it rains, it pours.
  • Jordan Costner hits a three from the corner on a pretty kick-out pass. Progress. Progress.
  • Khalil Mumford misses a J.J. Redick-distance three. Desperate times in Dunne's dungeon over on the other side of the court. Which makes me wonder, "When does the rebuilding end for St. Pete's?"
  • St. Peter's airball count - five. Good thing I took the over.
  • Reedal takes down O'Sullivan in the "Little kids dress up like Stags" competition. A Kodak moment to say the least. Meanwhile, Frank Romano - yes, the Frank Romano - is following up his 'Let's Be Frank: Basketball Manager' with a Stag mascot version. But don't tell him I told you - it's very hush, hush at this point.
  • Media timeout --> 16-2 Fairfield, 11:50 in the first half
  • Tom Cleary: "Let's see what happens now (that SPC has scored). The old Fairfield teams under Cooley would've let them back in."
  • ALLELUIA! The Peacocks score! The Peacocks score! Do you believe in miracles? YES!
  • SPC Timeout --> 16-0 Fairfield, 13:01
  • Yorel Hawkins makes moves under the basket off a nice feed in the post from Ryan Olander, who was given the most awkward alley-oop pass I've ever seen. Unless he was Dr. J, that was not happening.
  • Sean Crawford is called for a reach as Fairfield employs the famous Cooley half-court trap. The crowd gives a, "Oh!" in disdain. Really, Red Sea? Don't get greedy.
  • Big Mike Evanovich drains a three from the top of the arc. 14-0 Fairfield.
  • Six minutes without a basket + four shotclock violations + a three-game win streak = Ed Cooley in his glory.
  • Wesley Jenkins steps out of bounds and gives the ball right back to Fairfield right after the break. On the other end, Nero hits a floater. Nice touch, sir. 11-0 Stags.
  • After another near SPC turnover, I've made up my mind. I'm calling it now - we are on the verge of history. The Peacocks will not score a basket this half. You watch. Call your friends and save your ticket stubs, folks.
  • Media timeout --> 9-0 Fairfield; 15:54 to play
  • A.J. hits a little turnaround jumper, a shot he's really perfected early on this season. On the other end, he whacks a Akeem Gooding offering right next to Tom and I. Good play on offense, better play on defense.
  • Just as I type that, Wesley Jenkins air balls a wide-open three-pointer. This could be a long night for the
  • Cooley is imploring his defense to hussle and "Get up!". The hard work shows, as a young Peacocks team runs out of time on the shot clock. John Dunne is starting three sophomores and a junior who did not start last year. Rebuilding year much?
  • Dapper Cooley watch: a black pin-striped suit, white shirt, and a Fairfield red and white striped tie. I'm a fan. The tie's got that candy cane look to it, so bonus points for the holiday season theme.
  • Another transition basket, and John Dunne calls a timeout. He's livid - can you blame him?
  • Han corrals a board and then drains a three on the other end. Ed Cooley was chanting "get going" - which makes you wonder how athletic this version's Stags are compared to previous years. The days of a slow, half-court game for Fairfield may be over.
  • Warren Edney get a lay-up in transition 1:10 into the game. 2-0 Stags.
  • Back-to-back turnovers mark the start of the game here. SPC comes out with a half-court trap, b ut Fairfield takes its time and moves up court.
  • A.J. controls the tip and we're underway.
  • Pre-game meal notes: a little hot roast beef action with home fries - a definite All-American choice. Not too shabby.

Game 8: St. Peter's at Fairfield

Hello from the Harbor! Tom Cleary and I live here for Fairfield's first MAAC game of the season - a Friday night matchhup against St. Peter's. The Stags enter the game riding a three game win streak, which includes a road win over Jesuit rival Holy Cross and an Alumni Hall thriller over American, last season's Patriot League champions.

A year or two ago, head coach Ed Cooley admitted these were games that Fairfield probably would have lost.

Whether or not the Stags are a 'great' team yet remains to be seen, but a sign of a team ready for a run at a conference title is that they win the games they are supposed to win. Tonight certainly qualifies as one of those games.

More to come.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reaction from Coach Frager

The women's basketball team returned from a two-game road trip. The first game was a 57-51 win over IPFW. The second was a 58-54 loss to Cornell. Both games were on the road.

On how the team played - "The IPFW game was a good game for us. They had played three very good teams, two made the NCAA tournament and one in the WNIT. We had to come from behind, but we came up big in the last five minutes. Anytime you travel that far on the road, you want to win."

On if close games will help the team going forward - "I hope so. It's not helping my health. Cornell was disappointing. They are a good team, they won the Ivy League last year, but we were up 19-10 at one point and that margin could have been even bigger. We missed so many point-blank shots. We did get good production from our post players, but this was one game where we didn't have much balance."

On Cornell shooting 52.4 percent in the second half - "We did a tremendous job in the first half. In the second half, two things happened. First, they made a conscious effort to go inside right away. At times we did a nice job with doubling them, but we didn't it as consistently as we did against Sacred Heart. Also, I think that when you struggle offensively, it wears on you and defense suffers."

On the upcoming conference games - "It would have been nice to go into conference play at 4-2. But success all depends on if you learn from mistakes, we've got to learn from the film and hopefully these games, close and on the road will help us. But we've got St. Peter's at St. Peter's, which is always a tough game. Then we come right back against a good Iona team. We have to be ready."

-Chris Simmons