Men's Basketball 2-0 in MAAC With OT Win Over Quinnipiac
Making split second decisions on the basketball court is never easy especially when you are being chased by two or three opponents. But Steve Johnston has made good decision after good decision over the last two years and Sunday was nothing different.
The senior iced the game with a layup in the closing seconds of overtime to seal the Fairfield University men’s basketball team’s 56-52 road win at Quinnipiac University on Sunday afternoon. Johnston finished the game with a team-high 14 points off the bench, his second straight double-digit performance.
“I was thinking that I could run the clock out or just go for the layup and ice the game,” Johnston said. “I’m glad I went for the layup because that pretty much ended it.”
Both teams had opportunities to win this game in regulation but when two conference opponents meet, nothing is a gimme. Fairfield owned a double-digit lead in the first half and an eight-point advantage at the half. Quinnipiac led by four points with 1:23 remaining in the second half but could not keep the relentless Stags from sending the game to overtime.
And once overtime came around, it was Fairfield that took full advantage of its opportunities by outscoring the Bobcats 10-6. Mike Kirkland Jr. scored four points, including the go-ahead basket on the team’s first possession of the extra period, while Johnston added four points including the critical layup with seven seconds left that made it a two-possession game.
Lost in all this overtime talk was probably the biggest play of the game which involved Marcus Gilbert, something that should not surprise any Fairfield fan. Trailing by three points after Zaid Hearst made one of two free throws, Fairfield took control of the ball with 22 seconds left. The Bobcats shut down most opportunities in the closing seconds, meaning it would take a miracle for the game to be extended.
Enter Marcus Gilbert, who held the ball at the top of the key with mere seconds on the clock.
“I called for my brother (Malcolm) to come up and set a screen,” Gilbert said. “I saw there was two seconds left so I just let it fly.”
He let it fly from 25 feet in front of his bench with a defender draped all over him. The ball going through the net was the only sound heard in TD Bank Sports Center as the score was now tied 46-46 with one second left. Quinnipiac took a desperation shot which missed everything, resulting in another five minutes of play.
Kirkland opened the overtime with an impressive reverse layup to make it 48-46 with 4:17 remaining. Malcolm Gilbert made one of two free throws to raise the lead to three points before Justin Harris made a pair of charity tosses to bring the Bobcats within a point at 49-48. For the second time in the game, Johnston went to the line for three shots after being fouled behind the arc, and the guard made two shots to regain the three-point lead.
After a turnover, Kirkland netted another a jumper to make it a five-point lead at 53-48 with a minute left on the clock. Ousmane Drame brought Quinnipiac back quickly with a pair of free throws and a layup to make it a one-point game at 53-52 with 23 seconds left. Marcus Gilbert made one of two free throws with 20 seconds on the clock, but Johnston came up with the loose ball and went the distance to make it a four-point lead with a second remaining.
In the first half, defense ran rampant in the opening 10 minutes of the game as both teams tried to solve the puzzle thrown at them. The game started with each team scoring on their first possession, courtesy of paint points from Amadou Sidibe and Ousmane Drame. But that would be the end of easy baskets for some time as both teams closed the lanes like a construction crew on Interstate 95.
Only four more points were scored in the paint over the next 19 minutes of the half, all coming from Kirkland. He finished the half with nine points which included a three-point field goal. With the score tied at 2-2, Fairfield went on an 11-1 run with Kirkland netting four of those points to push the lead to 13-3 with 8:39 on the clock. Fairfield would settle for an eight-point halftime lead, heading into the locker room with a 26-18 advantage.
Quinnipiac started the second half with a 17-6 run that would erase the halftime deficit and push the Bobcats in front for the first time, 35-32, with 12:25 on the clock. The home team would lead by no more than six points in the half and still had the four-point edge in the closing minutes, setting up Fairfield comeback bid.
Fairfield will have 13 days off before returning to the hardwood on December 20 when it hosts Belmont University at Webster Bank Arena. Game time is slated for 1:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased at the Webster Bank Arena box office or through www.ticketmaster.com.