Thirty seconds into the game, a thunderous one-handed put back dunk by the Fairfield Stags' seven-footer Ryan Olander portends great things for this game Sunday at Canisius College's Koessler Athletic Centre. The 1,011 expectant fans are making an inordinate amount of noise, way in excess of what you'd predict from such a modest horde. The Stags egg on the crowd by keeping the game close in the early going with some timely three-point shooting. Eight minutes in, the score is only 16-12 for Fairfield despite the fact that they are able to find huge seams in the Canisius zone defense. On the other hand, the Golden Griffins' spread offense isn't able to get any traction and scoring is a chore. At the third media timeout of the period the Stags lead 22-14, but the Griffs outscore them the rest of the way 16-14 and the half ends with the visitors ahead only 34-30. Fairfield scores 18 points within the key while Canisius takes advantage of second chance opportunities to score 12 of its markers. It's not an elegant contest but it is a competitive one.
After the break, the second half descends into hoops ignominy. Something happens in both locker rooms that roots the players' feet to the hardwood once the action is supposed to have begun. The game becomes a war of attrition. Each team walks the ball up court and takes as much time off the clock as possible before getting into their set. Point guards wave off teammates at both ends of the floor well into the 35 second shot clock before embarking on variations of the high screen or dribble drive offenses.
I rarely have to look above the Red Line to get my fill of quality ball, but this stanza of standstill basketball made me yearn, just for a moment, for UNC vs. Kentucky. On Saturday they played a game as fluid as it was ferocious. A wonder and a joy to watch on the big screen as I squirmed with delight in the old La-Z-Boy.
My basketball philosophy and dreams notwithstanding, both Coach Parrotta's Golden Griffins and Coach Johnson's Stags did what they had to do to win the game. That's not to say that I don't appreciate a great staggered screen or a sharp L-cut or a 1-4 half-court set. It's not all about the highlight reel. I can do X's and O's too!
In the end, just like any battle on the ground, the best execution and the fewest mistakes win. So the glory fell to Fairfield on this day 68-59. Holding their own turnovers three below their 15 per game average while forcing 18, enabled them to reap 23 points from errors relative to Canisius' 12. On this mid-major evening, the mathematics of the game was the difference but it would have been nice to see some more of the art too.
FAIRFIELD 68, at CANISIUS 59 12/04/2011
FAIRFIELD 5-4 (2-0) -- R. Sanders 7-11 4-5 19; R. Olander 4-8 1-2 9; M. Barrow 5-6 2-4 12; D. Needham 6-15 4-6 19; D. Wade 1-2 0-0 2; J. Fields 1-2 2-4 5; C. Nickerson 0-1 0-0 0; K. Matthews 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 25-48 13-21 68. CANISIUS 1-5 (0-2) -- C. Manhertz 4-8 5-5 13; H. Washington 9-16 5-6 24; A. Hymes 4-12 0-0 11; R. Groves 0-4 1-2 1; K. Bleeker 1-2 1-2 3; G. Belardo 1-5 2-2 5; J. Heath 1-3 0-0 2; F. Milian 0-0 0-0 0; M. Dhal 0-0 0-0 0; D. Santiago 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-51 14-17 59.
Three-point goals: FAIR 5-18 (R. Sanders 1-3; D. Wade 0-1; R. Olander 0-1; D. Needham 3-10; C. Nickerson 0-1; J. Fields 1-2), CANI 5-14 (H. Washington 1-2; G. Belardo 1-2; A. Hymes 3-9; R. Groves 0-1); Rebounds: FAIR 23 (R. Sanders 10), CANI 29 (C. Manhertz 12); Assists: FAIR 16 (R. Sanders 5), CANI 12 (H. Washington 3); Total Fouls -- FAIR 14, CANI 19; Fouled Out: FAIR-None; CANI-R. Groves.