Other than being the birthplace of basketball, Springfield, Mass. was a curious choice for the MAAC Tournament.
Traditionally, the MAAC Tournament is held in a large arena, but with at least one "host" team, whether it be in Albany (where it seems to draw the biggest crowds), Bridgeport (like it was last year), or Buffalo, but Commissioner Rich Ensor wanted a neutral site, and so Springfield was it, apparently beating out Uncasville, Conn., home of the Mohegan Sun Arena (damn), and Newark.
It still worked out well for me with New Haven being just an hour away, and the MassMutual Arena has undergone some nice renovations in the last decade, but it's not exactly state-of-the-art, having opened in 1972. So basically I give it a "Meh".
The conference does have its own display at the Hall of Fame, which obviously any of the other "neutral" locations can't touch, I guess.
Which seemed to be about what the crowds gave it. Although it was the early game at the MAAC, it wasn't that early (there had already been two women's semifinals), but the crowd was fairly tame at best. The MAAC is strange like that, most of its schools are urban, and therefore overshadowed by larger neighbors, which in turn keep the crowds relatively low, even though the quality of play can be quite good. Most of the time.
It was kind of disappointing that not every team brought a band, but - like I said - the MAAC is a little weird like that.
The good news for me is that my cheap seat could be upgraded when I figured out that there were some good seats closer to the court and the ushers didn't seem to mind too much as long as no one was sitting there.
As for the first game of my MAAC quadheader (official term), it came down to the two words you'll probably hear more than any other in the next few weeks: survive and advance.
Is that the biggest cliché in all of tournament basketball. Should I throw in "one game at a time"?
I mentioned several times that Fairfield had the talent to win the MAAC this season, but they were dealt a cruel blow in their penultimate regular season game, when - with the Stags playing arguably their best basketball of the season - their junior point guard Derek Needham broke his left foot at Iona, a game the Stags would lose 77-72.
They followed it up by losing at Rider (ironically, all three Fairfield-Rider games were covered on Mid-majority this season, here and here are the other two), and coincidentally, here were the Broncs six days later in the MAAC Quarterfinals.
The first half was ugly, the Stags looking for an answer on offense and not really finding it, but somehow surviving 22-19 at the break. Yuk.
A recurring theme for me this week has been the seniors, and this game was no different, as Virginia transfer Jeff Jones played like he didn't want his college career to end. After scoring the first four points of the second half, his 3-pointer tied the game at 37 midway through the second half, and he saluted the crowd that made their way up from New Jersey.
Desmond Wade, filling in for Needham, but not known as a shooter, drilled back-to-back #superhoops and a 9-0 run put Fairfield in front, only to see Jones (and Jonathan Thompson) not want to go into the good night, and we were tied again. But the unlikely 3-point barrage continued from the Stags, as Wade and 7-footer Ryan Olander hit shots to put Fairfield ahead to stay.
Down two with 0.4 seconds left, Brandon Penn intentionally missed a free throw and Junior Fortunat nearly was able to tip it in, but the Stags had survived, 65-63.
FAIRFIELD 65, RIDER 63 03/03/2012
RIDER 13-19 (10-8) -- D. Stewart 3-7 5-9 11; J. Jones 7-9 3-4 19; J. Thompson 5-11 5-7 19; B. Penn 0-4 0-0 0; N. Gadson 1-7 3-3 5; E. Mitchell 4-9 0-0 9; J. Fortunat 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-47 16-23 63. FAIRFIELD 18-13 (12-6) -- M. Barrow 2-5 2-2 6; C. Nickerson 1-3 1-3 3; R. Sanders 4-11 6-8 15; D. Wade 4-12 0-0 12; J. Fields 4-6 1-2 9; R. Olander 3-6 0-0 7; S. Crawford 2-8 4-4 9; K. Matthews 2-6 0-0 4; A. Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-57 14-19 65.
Three-point goals: RID 7-18 (J. Jones 2-4; B. Penn 0-1; N. Gadson 0-3; J. Thompson 4-7; E. Mitchell 1-3), FAIR 7-23 (R. Sanders 1-4; D. Wade 4-8; S. Crawford 1-7; R. Olander 1-2; J. Fields 0-2); Rebounds: RID 28 (J. Jones 7), FAIR 34 (R. Sanders 8); Assists: RID 13 (N. Gadson 4), FAIR 19 (D. Wade 6); Total Fouls -- RID 16, FAIR 22; Fouled Out: RID-None; FAIR-M. Barrow.