"No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly."- Oscar Wilde
Game #9-468: Fairfield Stags at Rider BroncsMarch 9, 2013 7:30 pm
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - After finally enduring the wait outside so they could "clean" MassMutual Arena (my forgotten program was still sitting where I left it), they allowed us back in just 10 minutes prior to the Fairfield-Rider quarterfinal tip-off.
I had to eat, and was unfortunately relegated to eating a burger and fries, which was not going to help with my pseudo-diet. Directly behind me in line were Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson's family and Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore's family. And they didn't appear to know each other. That will likely change next season when Quinnipiac and Fairfield are grouped together in the MAAC (the two schools are only about 30 minutes apart).I had covered Moore's final loss
(and it always ends in a loss), but he was with his family, so I didn't bother him. Moore never moved his family after going from a UConn assistant to Quinnipiac head coach, so it was actually a shorter ride to Springfield than it would have been to Quinnipiac.
Anyway, I had $13 left in my wallet, and the burger, fries, and soda went for $12.75. So I had that going for me. Which was nice.
Actually, it was probably more than Fairfield has in its favor heading into its quarterfinal with second-seeded Rider. At one point, as was documented well here because I saw the Stags more than any other team this season, Fairfield just forgot how to score, and if you're looking for a tipping point, it was probably a 62-40 home loss to Manhattan
- a game forced onto their campus by the blizzard last month.
Or maybe not. Fairfield beat Iona and Siena in its next two games, before finishing the regular season with a hideous three-game losing streak. The Stags managed to hold off last-seeded Saint Peter's in the first round, but only after being down seven in the second half to a team that lost 16 of its last 18 conference games.
And so Sydney Johnson and Fairfield set out to uglify things. Yea, I made up that word and I'll try to play it in Scrabble, too, but it's the best way I could come up with at this late hour to describe what I saw.
It was hideous: long, pointless possessions, rushed shots that didn't come close to going in, shots that weren't rushed that didn't come close to going in. Rider's Jonathon Thompson hit a jumper with 9:10 left in the first half, and that was the last the Broncs would get in the first half, yet they trailed only 18-14 and soon lead 21-18 early in the second half because the Stags just couldn't score.
The Broncs finished with zero assists, nada, against 21 turnovers, something I don't think I'd ever seen before and might not for some time to come.
Neither team had more than a four-point lead in the entire game, because in this game, four was massive, Rider led 34-30 on a Thompson jumper with 5:49 to go. But two minutes later, Fairfield's Derek Needham shocked everyone in attendance by rising up behind the three-point arc, launching the ball, and it actually went through the hoop.
It gave Fairfield a 35-34 lead and the rest of the game would turn into a glorified free throw shooting contest.
In recent years, the "what to do when you're up three and the other team has the ball with time running out" debate has been all the rage among the intellectual elite of Our Game, or the stat geeks as I would call them derogatorily.
From coaching, I know how things are not as precise as they seem on paper (or on the computer). Balls bounce funny ways on missed free throws, people can try to foul non-shooters and end up fouling shooters, you'd be surprised how much crazy stuff I've seen over the years. Even the master himself Ken Pomeroy has questioned recently whether it's worth it.
Of course, Sydney Johnson has a degree from Princeton, so we should trust him, correct? Especially in analytical matters like this.
So with the Stags leading 41-38 and time running out, Johnson had Colin Nickerson foul Thompson with 6.9 seconds left, and Thompson made both t make it 41-40. Needham hit two clutch free throws at the other end, and again Johnson ordered a foul, Coleman Johnson fouling Nurideen Lindsey with 1.2 seconds to go.
Lindsey tried to miss the second, but failed, sinking it, to make it 43-42. Needham was fouled with 0.8 seconds to go, and Rider - incorrectly in my opinion - used its final time out when Needham was shooting earlier. Johnson brought Needham over, told him to miss, he did, and Rider didn't even have time to chuck an 85-footer.
Advantage Princeton grad.
Although there are still things that even Ivy Leaguers can't control in Our Game. A couple of Rider shots in the final minutes seemed to go halfway down before popping out. Coach Kevin Baggett was sure Anthony Myles took a charge on Needham with 37 seconds left and the Stags up a point. Didn't get the call. Small margins, as the margins have been all year in the MAAC. On this night, they just weren't dealt a good hand to work with against a team that has swept them in the regular season even though they were five spots behind them in the final standings.
Even in things that are unattractive in this world, we can still admire portions of beauty in it. Although there were only 85 points combined, some of that is surely due to the defense both teams displayed. Defense worked on diligently every day in practice and even harder in the film room, picking up other teams' tendencies and weaknesses.
Even if it might be ugly to watch for the casual observer.
All of this semantics talk was probably small consolation to Rider and first-year head man Baggett, who saw an overachieving season end like this. But such is life in March, Kevin, and it's never too early for a young coach to learn that this game will hurt you.
As for Fairfield, although it was a tremendous magic act to make their way to the semifinals without an offense, you wondered how long the smoke and mirrors would keep up the illusion.