Needham Leads Men Over Iona
On one hand, it was what was expected. On the other hand, it was something that was not expected. Put the two expectations together and the result was a thrilling 66-64 win by the Fairfield University men's basketball over Iona College at Webster Bank Arena.
With the game on the line, everyone in the arena knew that the ball would somehow end up in the hands of senior Derek Needham. And, the guard did not disappoint as his three-point field goal with 5.5 seconds remaining provided the winning margin. Needham finished the game with a team-high 17 points, another element that would not shock any Fairfield follower.
But it was the play of freshman Justin Jenkins that may have caught everyone by surprise, especially when you consider that the guard had missed the last seven games with a hand injury. All he did tonight was score 12 points and dish off five assists without a turnover in 27 minutes of work. With the Stags trailing by seven points at 61-54 with 3:48 remaining, Jenkins touched off a 9-0 run with a three-point field goal.
Needham followed up Jenkins' shot by making one of two free throws to make it a one-possession game at 61-58 with 2:59 remaining. Amadou Sidibe kept the Fairfield run going with a layup two possessions later that brought the Stags within a point at 61-60 at the 1:56 mark.
The rally culminated with a three-point shot from freshman Marcus Gilbert that pushed the Stags in front at 63-61 with 47 seconds left. Momo Jones ended the Fairfield run with a three-point play that regained the Iona lead at 64-63 with 21 seconds left. With no timeouts remaining, Fairfield went right to work. With seconds ticking away, the ball found its way to Needham.
The senior did a quick crossover dribble to free himself of his defender and let loose a NBA-range three-point shot that dropped through the basket with 5.5 seconds left. Iona called timeout to set up a play, which ended up in the hands of Sean Armand. He took a 10-foot jumper straight away, but the ball bounced off the back rim and out as time expired.
Early in the game, it did not look like that this game was heading toward a classic ending. Iona came out firing and built an 11-point lead at 22-11 with 10:39 remaining. Jones would score 11 points and Armand would add seven points during that opening run.
The Stags still trailed by 11 points with 7:29 remaining in the half at 26-15 after a layup from Tre Bowman. Fairfield followed those points with a 14-2 run that would give it the lead at 29-28 with 3:57 on the clock. Jenkins scored five of those points including the three-pointer that gave the home its first lead since 5-3 at the 18:18 mark. There would be five lead changes over the final three-plus minutes which resulted in Iona taking the lead at halftime, 34-33 following a jumper from David Laury.
The second half saw six lead changes, including the seven-point Iona advantage at 61-54 which set up the exciting finish.
Jones led all scorers with 29 points, while Armand added 14 points for the Gaels. Maurice Barrow was the other Fairfield student-athlete in double figures, netting 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the game. Colin Nickerson also joined Barrow as the rebounding co-leader with eight rebounds.
Fairfield will play its final regular-season home game of the season when it hosts the University at Albany on Saturday. Game time is slated for 1 pm at Webster Bank Arena. The program will honor the senior class prior to the game which includes Needham, Nickerson, and Desmond Wade. The University will also honor the 1973 and 1974 NIT basketball teams during halftime of the game.