Fairfield’s Derek Needham heaved a three-pointer in the first half that got stuck between the rim and the backboard. Otherwise, it was Siena’s perimeter offense that was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Stags put the Saints’ outside shooters in lockdown and pulled away in the final 8:37 to win, 64-54, before 5,597 at the Times Union Center Monday night. The loss prevented the Saints (4-8, 6-17) from moving into a tie with the Stags (6-6, 14-10) for sixth place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Fairfield came into the game with the best scoring defense in the conference, and showed why by holding starting guards Evan Hymes and Rakeem Brookins to a combined 4-for-17 from the field. Hymes, who has been suffering with a sore throat for the last two days, came in averaging 12.0 points per game, but was held to five in 34 minutes and did not score in the first half.
“As the game wore on, we didn’t have the offense that we’ve had, and you have to credit Fairfield,” Siena head coach Mitch Buonaguro said. “They did get after us, and really guarded Evan and Rahk well.”
“They did a great job scouting. They knew what our game plan was, what we wanted to do,” Hymes said. “They saw that we’re scoring a lot more points running the four-out, one-in offense. Credit goes to them. They pressured me and Rahk, and not just us, they were mugging O.D. [Anosike] on the inside.”
The game was very close, for the most part, featuring 10 ties and 13 lead changes, until Fairfield got some breathing room with a 14-2 run to take a 59-45 lead with 2:34 left on a reverse by Desmond Wade.
Needham finished with 18 points, including an open three from the left corner to start the run, and forward Michael Barrow came off the bench to score fi ve of his 11 points during that stretch.
Siena couldn’t get the deficit below 10 until it was too late, on a Hymes three to cut it to 62-54 with 36 seconds left.
“We wanted to be aggressive with their guards,” Needham said. “We try to take pride on defense, especially with three senior guards trying to show the way for the younger guys. We did a pretty good job today.”
Anosike finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but the Stags were able to take advantage of the new smaller starting lineup that Siena has been using since small forward Trenity Burdine came back from suspension.
Fairfield, which had 14 offensive rebounds, ferociously guarded the three-point line, conceding the long pull-up jumpers off ball screens that the Saints settled for.
Siena made five of its fi rst six shots to take an 11-6 lead, but fi nished the game 20-for-54 (37.0 percent) from the field.
“It was a grind-out game, and they were just better at it than us tonight,” Buonaguro said.
“Offensively, we let it slip away a little bit,” Anosike said. “They were double-teaming me, I was kicking it out and we missed some shots that we normally make. They’re a really good defensive team, so we knew it was going to be a battle. They didn’t surprise us with anything.”
“They’ve been very potent with Burdine in there and a little more versatile,” Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson said. “We’ve been trying to get back to that groove, and
this was a gutsy road win, something like what we were able to do early in the season.”
Gilbert 2-8 1-2 6, Sidibe 4-8 2-2 10, Mikulic 2-11 0-0 5, Needham 6-10 4-4 18, Wade 3-7 1-2 7, Barrow 5-8 1-2 11, Johnston 1-3 0-0 3, Nickerson 1-5 0-0 2, Matthews 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 25-62 9-12 64.
Anosike 7-13 1-2 15, Burdine 4-8 2-2 10, Hymes 1-7 2-2 5, Brookins 3-10 3-4 9, Poole 3-7 3-4 9, Audu 2-6 0-0 6, Martens 0-3 0-0 0, Silas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-54 11-14 54.
Halftime — Fairfield 27, Siena 25. Threepoint goals — Fairfield 5-23 (Needham 2-6, Gilbert 1-3, Johnston 1-3, Mikulic 1-8, Nickerson 0-1, Wade 0-2), Siena 3-12 (Audu 2-5, Hymes 1-3, Poole 0-1, Brookins 0-1, Martens 0-1, Burdine 0-1). Fouled Out — None. Rebounds — Fairfield 36 (Nickerson, Sidibe 6), Siena 32 (Anosike 8). Assists — Fairfield 11 (Wade 7), Siena 8 (Anosike 4). Total Fouls — Fairfield 14, Siena 16. A — 5,597.