Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fairfield Stags 62 at Saint Peter's Peacocks 63 (NCAA Basketball, MAAC) - February 25, 2014

My week of NCAA basketball ended yesterday with the fifth game in eight days, all within an hour or so of Manhattan. Ironically, Manhattan is one of the teams that I will wait until next year to see. Anyway, last night there were three choices: St. John's hosting Xavier at MSG, Saint Peter's welcoming Fairfield in Jersey City, and NJIT, the only independent school in Division I, seeing the Eagles of NC Central visiting in Newark. Decisions, decisions. The St. John's game would likely be the most entertaining, but also the most expensive. NJIT is not that easy to get to and was probably a mismatch, while Saint Peter's is a short walk from Journal Square on the PATH train. When I found out that a few friends were heading there as well, my decision was made.

The Peacocks, who I saw play on the weekend in Monmouth, call the Yanitelli Center home. It has the distinction of being the worst-rated venue of the over 1,700 reviewed stadiums on Stadium Journey. And that review is pretty accurate. There is simply nothing at the Yanitelli Center that merits mention, other than tickets are just $10 ($5 for students and seniors). Check out some pics:

This is from the top of one side of the gym, about 30 minutes before the game. Hard wooden benches are your only option and yes, your ass will hurt by the end of the game.

Saint Peter's has had some success in the past, with three NCAA tournament appearances, although I didn't realize that the light blue banners were for the women's teams while the dark blue ones that you can see below are for the men. In 2011 they won the MAAC tournament and were quickly dispensed by Purdue at the Big Dance.

The cheerleaders just wear t-shirts and shorts, and don't do much other than a few lifts like below. With an enrolment of just 3,700, you can't expect much but the turnout was still disappointing. Those who did make it enjoyed a good game.

The Game

Fairfield came in at 3-15 in conference play, tied for worst with Niagara, while Saint Peter's was 7-11 and a 4-point favourite according to Vegas. Yes, even these lesser known tilts get action at the sports books.

Fairfield came out strong with Amadou Sidibe (above) clearly their best player on offense. He seemed unstoppable in the low post, banking in shot after shot, scoring ten points in the first 8 minutes. The Stags managed a 21-16 lead but Saint Peter's went on a 19-5 run over the last 9 minutes to take a 35-26 lead into the half, which was played at a fast pace, taking about 40 minutes.

The Peacocks retained their 9-point advantage through the first media timeout in the 2nd half and then fell apart on both sides of the ball as Fairfield went on a 15-0 run over 6 minutes to take a 48-42 lead. Only a thunderous dunk by Marvin Dominique (#21 in white above) served to stop the momentum and bring the tiny crowd into the game.

With the score 60-51 in Fairfield's favour with 3:24 to go, then the officials got in the act, calling two ticky-tack fouls on Maurice Barrow (shooting below) in a 6-second span, causing him to foul out with 15 points. Chris Burke (trying to block Barrow) made both free throws and after Jamal Fields brought the Peacocks within 4 with a layup, Sidibe fouled Desi Washington (#11 below) who drained both to make it 60-58 Fairfield with 1:45 left.

After Washington missed a trey, Sidibe was fouled and made both his charity shots to regain the 4-point cushion. But the Stags allowed a quick layup to Quadir Welton and Saint Peter's called timeout, down 2 with 30 seconds to go. When Fairfield took possession, the Peacocks waited until K.J. Rose, a freshman shooting just over 50% from the line, had the ball before fouling. Smart move as Rose missed both free throws and Saint Peter's ran the ball up the floor. Washington dribbled the clock down, moved back, and sank a long three, sending the crowd of 387 into a frenzy. Fairfield had no timeouts and just 2.1 seconds on the clock, not enough time for even a desperation heave as Saint Peter's won with a miracle, 63-62.


Washington also sank a last second trey in their previous meeting in Connecticut, giving the Peacocks a 56-55 win. That one was even featured on SportsCenter's top plays that night, if the game notes are to be believed.

The officials were brutal. On three separate occasions they had to review a play, including one on which a foul was called. As my good friend Mike said "What are you going to do, change it?" Those reviews and some questionable foul calls really dragged out the game in the second half.

I ended up making the right decision as Xavier upset St. John's 65-53 and NC Central hammered NJIT 81-62.

Next Up

First, I'll be seeing the Leafs on Long Island tomorrow, my third Leafs' road game this season and 20th overall. Then I fly to Chicago on Friday add the United Center (NBA) to my Club 122 credentials. I saw the Bulls play at old Chicago Stadium back in 1991 but have yet to grace them with my presence since the new arena opened in 1994. I'll also be seeing the AHL's Chicago Wolves and Milwaukee Bucks, check back regularly for updates.



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