"History is written by the victors." - Winston Churchill
In wandering the halls of the MassMutual Center after Fairfield's 85-75 upset of Iona in the MAAC semifinals, I came across a scene which hurt me.
In the spot designated for families to meet the players, Iona senior Mike Glover - who had taken a somewhat circuitous route to the Gaels - stared out a window at nothing in particular with his young son in his arms. People were talking to him, but he didn't hear them.
I thought about snapping a picture, but sometimes privacy is the better part of valor. The visual, while striking, wasn't worth 1,000 words, but screamed just one, "Why?"
You and I know there's no good answer to that query, at least not one that makes sense.
Iona, although it did lose three games in conference, was the best team in the MAAC this season, and Glover and Scott Machado (the MAAC Player of the Year) were arguably the best two players in the league.
There were warning signs against Fairfield in the first half, but really none that screamed that the Stags were ready to pull an upset. Fairfield point guard (and probably their best player) Derek Needham was injured (against Iona) the week before and backup Sam Crawford was hobbled (played only a couple of seconds in this one).
Center Ryan Olander had hit a somewhat uncharacteristic 3-pointer. Colin Nickerson - pressed into duty - had somehow hit three #superhoops, including two in less than a minute, even though his season-high was one coming in. He was so gunshy that Connecticut Post columnist Chris Elsberry tweeted what every Fairfield fan was thinking midway through the first half: "OMG, Colin. Shoot the ball."
Even with Sydney Johnson apparently waving his magic wand, Iona still led 42-40 at the half, and appeared to be able to go inside whenever they pleased.
I tweeted, "Fairfield only down two, but it appears like they've thrown their best punches and Iona's still standing."
Machado came out dominating in the second half, and a pair of Momo Jones free throws put the Gaels up 60-54 with 10 minutes left. Taaj Ridley stole the ball in the backcourt, and Machado had an open look at a 3-pointer that could have been backbreaker.
It didn't connect.
Jamel Fields, another guy off Johnson's bench who came through, did connect on the other end, Fairfield gained some momentum, and the rest is history.
Glover, Machado, and Iona have been probably trying to forget the rest since it happened. Likely unsuccessfully.
Suddenly, in the biggest spot of their careers, things fell apart. Machado turned the ball over and missed shots. Glover couldn't make a free throw. And the somewhat less heralded senior in the red jersey named Rakim Sanders - who had been around the block a few times, too - outplayed them both.
After Fairfield grabbed a 63-61 lead, Sanders scored seven straight points, including a dagger three-pointer that put the Stags up nine with 5:47 to go.
You waited for the Gaels to respond, but it never happened. They never got to within six as the Stags more or less cruised into the MAAC finals.
Ironically, it was a similar confounding effort that doomed Fairfield in the semifinals last season against Saint Peter's (at home).
What makes mid-major conference tournaments so thrilling is what makes them so painful for teams like Iona. It's not like Machado and Glover can try to hang on for another season. They are seniors. It's over. They'll likely play in the NIT, but - despite amazing mid-major careers - they'll never appear in the Promised Land, the NCAA Tournament.
Because of 10 bad minutes.
Somehow a team that led the nation in scoring took only 22 shots in the entire second half. Meanwhile, Fairfield - not the most explosive team when at full strength- scored 45 points, and shot nearly 60 percent from the field for the game.
Full credit to Sanders (28 points, 12 rebs) and the Stags, who had a real #AOUEOU performance when they needed it most. With Needham out, other guys hit big shots and made big defensive plays, and on this day, they were certainly the better team.
Why? I tried, but I didn't really get close, did I?
For every agony of defeat there is a thrill of victory, however, and as I returned to my seat for the second game, Sydney Johnson made his way from the locker room, and his two kids ran down to embrace their victorious dads. Johnson stayed with them for a while, but as toddlers do, they got bored and wanted to leave, so he kissed them and said goodbye.
Presumably, Glover was gone by then, too, out into the Springfield night. It is only a basketball game, life goes on, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt.
And, as much as you replay it in your mind, or try to think of ways you could have fixed it, it happened, it's done. Finished. And the answer as to why will always remain a mystery.
But if there was no mystery, there would be no intrigue, no madness, no Cinderellas. And so the mystery continues.
FAIRFIELD 85, IONA 75 03/04/2012
FAIRFIELD 19-13 (12-6) -- L. Rivers 3-12 11-12 18; D. Wade 1-8 4-4 6; R. Sanders 11-17 2-5 26; R. Olander 3-6 4-4 11; C. Nickerson 5-8 1-2 14; M. Barrow 3-3 3-4 9; K. Matthews 6-8 2-4 14; J. Fields 2-2 0-0 5; S. Crawford 0-0 0-0 0; G. Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-52 16-23 85. IONA 25-7 (15-3) -- S. Machado 9-16 2-2 24; M. Glover 5-10 9-18 19; L. Jones 6-11 4-4 16; S. Armand 1-5 0-0 3; R. Dezouvre 2-5 0-0 4; T. Ridley 1-1 2-2 4; K. Smyth 0-1 0-0 0; J. Jenkins 0-0 0-0 0; R. James 2-2 0-0 5. Totals 26-51 17-26 75.
Three-point goals: FAIR 7-14 (R. Sanders 2-3; D. Wade 0-3; R. Olander 1-3; C. Nickerson 3-4; J. Fields 1-1), IONA 6-13 (S. Machado 4-6; K. Smyth 0-1; L. Jones 0-1; S. Armand 1-4; R. James 1-1); Rebounds: FAIR 32 (R. Sanders 12), IONA 17 (M. Glover 8); Assists: FAIR 27 (D. Wade 11), IONA 15 (S. Machado 7); Total Fouls -- FAIR 18, IONA 22; Fouled Out: FAIR-None; IONA-None.