Game #9-387: Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds at Fairfield StagsJanuary 21, 2013 7:00 pm
Arena at Harbor Yard
During the Monday holiday, my eleven year-old Ian and I are watching the Knicks on television when we see the ad for that night's Fairfield-Loyola game. The spot features Fairfield players dunking, although the moves do not happen in game situations; the empty blue seats of the Webster Bank Arena show prominently in the background, and in one sequence Nickerson actually wears his warm-ups.
It is a school night, but watching Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos lead his veteran, MAAC tournament-defending Greyhounds into the easternmost outpost of the conference is worth the short ride up to Bridgeport. Other Connecticut fans must agree. While the arena is not nearly full, Ian and I sit behind the Loyola bench in a sold out Row E. Patsos never disappoints. Tonight, during the national anthem he whispers intently to an assistant and then turns to the crowd to wink at a fan also not paying attention to God or country. Loyola wins the tip, and in the opening possessions both teams play man-to-man defense. When Fairfield switches to a zone, Loyola's Cormier takes advantage and hits the first three-pointer of the game.
On the Fairfield side, Coach Sydney Johnson has a team full of freshman, a group that for all of its frustrating habits he appears to enjoy coaching. He subs seven-foot freshman Sidibe into the game and switches his team into a triangle-and-two defense which briefly ignites the Stags. A technical foul on Patsos (no one in the row can figure out what he's done) and a crazy schoolyard fall-left-shoot-right bank shot from Needham give Fairfield a four point lead, 22-18, at the under-8:00 timeout. During the break, Patsos stands behind behind the huddle snorting like a boar and letting his assistant talk to the players.
Fairfield cannot consolidate the momentum. The game gets faster, and Loyola's pressure produces turnovers against Fairfield's guards -- the veteran players on Coach Johnson's roster, the ones who should know better. For the Greyhounds, a dunk by Etherly and a traditional three-point play in the lane by Cormier give Loyola a halftime lead, 31-30. The game is close but not yet compelling.
Ian and I go to the concourse and stand in a long line at Rita's Italian Ice. (How at such a poorly attended game do we find ourselves in so many crowds?) As we wait, Ian wavers between ordering custard, which he's never tasted before, or ice. "I mean, I know I like Italian ice," he says. We consider abandoning the snack altogether. All this indecision causes us to miss the first few minutes of the second half during which Loyola takes over the game.
Back in our seats, we watch Loyola put the cap on a 14-5 spurt, the last several points coming from Fairfield turnovers that the Greyhounds convert into baskets for which they do not run any offensive sets. I point it out to Ian. "They're moving fast enough to get easy shots, but not so fast that they turn it over."
But Ian, working his way through a paper cup of custard, a good choice it turns out, interprets the action differently. "A lot of the Loyola guys have changed their hair since last year," he says. "Look at Cormier. What happened to his mohawk?"
Coach Johnson continues to shuffle his freshmen. Mikulic comes in for Gilbert -- a shooter replacing a slasher -- and the seven-foot Croatian hits a three-pointer after a set play where he never steps anywhere near the basket.
"What good is he?" says Ian. "He is so big, but he only shoots outside and sets screens."
But the shot contains the beginnings of a comeback for the home team. There is a little rise in the crowd. Our section continues to watch Patsos, who sits at the far end of his team's bench between the manager and the team priest.
Latham, working low on the block, answers Mikulic's hoop with an inside move to keep the Stags at arm's length.
At the under-8:00 timeout, Loyola leads 54-45. But the Greyhounds are racking up fouls, including 4 on Olson, their most reliable shooter, who goes to the bench. Fairfield's foul shooting keeps them within hailing distance. A fast break basket by Needham on which he is fouled closes the gap to five points. Again, the crowd stirs slightly.
Patsos sends Olson back into the game, but yanks him out after only two possessions when Fairfield's Nickerson drives against him, and Olson, not wanting to foul out, backs off. On the bench, Patsos says to his shooter: "Take a charge! We're trying to win -- what are you trying to do?"
All of us in Row E murmur to each other that this is terrible advice. Olson made the right play not to challenge Nickerson and risk fouling out with so much time in the game. Patsos's emotions have gotten the best of him. But it turns out Patsos knows what he is doing: This game won't be decided on the perimeter. Etherly, Latham, and Winbush, the Loyola forwards, carry the workload. Winbush, corralling an offensive rebound, tosses the ball out to a guard and then receives it again with his back to the basket. He drop steps into the lane and makes a shot that gives Loyola a nine point lead again.
Fairfield has its chances, but they never get so close that we feel like Loyola is in danger. Needham throws a wild pass meant for Barrow that bounces over the scorer's table. Then he commits a cheap foul that leads to two free throws by the Greyhounds' Etherly. Nickerson, whose windmill dunk Ian remembers from the t.v. commercial, continues his stretch of games where he is oddly silent on offense.
Loyola wins 65-60.
Patsos goes out of the arena bending the ear of the same assistant he talked to during the anthem. What is he saying? That good big men always trump shooters? That Olson should stop worrying about foul trouble and play the game in the moment? That there is no place to take the team post-game in dismal Bridgeport? If the last, he only has a couple of choices: the children's museum or the zoo, and neither is open at this hour.
LOYOLA (MD.) 65, at FAIRFIELD 60
LOYOLA (MD.) 14-6 (6-2) -- D. Cormier 5-10 9-13 21; E. Etherly 4-13 8-9 16; J. Latham 4-5 2-2 10; R. Olson 1-1 1-2 4; A. Winbush 2-4 1-2 5; J. Brooks 0-1 0-0 0; F. Rassman 1-1 0-0 2; E. Laster 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-35 21-28 58.
FAIRFIELD 10-10 (2-6) -- D. Needham 7-13 7-9 23; A. Sidibe 5-7 2-3 12; C. Nickerson 0-2 0-0 0; M. Barrow 2-8 3-6 7; M. Gilbert 1-2 2-5 5; D. Wade 1-5 4-4 6; J. Mikulic 1-2 0-0 3; K. Matthews 2-5 0-0 4; J. Jenkins 0-1 0-0 0; C. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-45 18-27 60.
Three-point goals: LMD 3-6 (E. Etherly 0-1; R. Olson 1-1; D. Cormier 2-4), FAIR 4-10 (D. Needham 2-6; C. Nickerson 0-1; M. Gilbert 1-2; J. Mikulic 1-1); Rebounds: LMD 24 (E. Etherly 9), FAIR 27 (A. Sidibe 11); Assists: LMD 1 (R. Williams 3), FAIR 9 (C. Nickerson 4); Total Fouls -- LMD 19, FAIR 20; Fouled Out: LMD-None; FAIR-None.