Less than 24 hours after a press release announcing the loss of three key players rattled the foundation of the men's basketball team, the Stags came out and showed their true colors. They smiled, they hugged, they cheered each other on and most importantly for their damaged psyches: they won.
With Anthony "Peanut" Johnson in the hospital with a career-threatening and season-ending chest problem and Jon Han sitting at home it would have been easy for Fairfield to come out flat, minds elsewhere, unable to concentrate. It seemed that was what would happen when the Stags fell behind big in the first half, down 14 points, but then a funny thing happened. They started to play like they have always known how. They were loose, they were happy and they battled.
It was one of the most impressive Stags victories I have seen in what is now my third year covering the team. They played their hearts out. Coach Ed Cooley was like a proud papa, beaming on the sideline the entire game, while in the back of his mind he was surely thinking about Peanut. There are a lot of similarities between Cooley and Peanut. Both overcame a difficult childhood. Both of them love to smile. And both of them play/coach with a tenacity that is unmatched. It was hard to watch Peanut struggle on the court since the UConn game, knowing he was banged up and bruised. He couldn't go for rebounds the same way, he winced when he made thunderous dunks that set off the crowd. Cooley could see something was wrong and it turns out it was much worse than anyone could have thought.
Now the Stags face a quick turnaround and yet another game that could decide the direction of this season. The athletic department is marketing the game as "Good vs. Evil, Cooley vs. Patsos." Loyola vs. Fairfield is always a fun game to watch and with the amount of drama that has flowed through the Stags this past week, this one should be even better than the past.
Meanwhile the Greyhounds are also feeling good, coming off of a win over the Rider Broncs which puts both the Stags and Loyola at 6-5 in the MAAC.
No matter what happens, the game will be entertaining for sure.