After beating Rhode Island in an emotional walk-over by a 95-66 count on Saturday, PC was forced to get right back into action against a young, but determined, Fairfield team on Monday. Besides that, the team had a Tuesday afternoon flight down to defending national champions Florida to look forward to.
"Emotion was riding so high from Saturday," said Tim Welsh. "On campus, all over. It was tough to come right back Monday night. This was a grind-it-out win. Everyone was flat, everybody – the refs, the players, the fans, the media. But we got through it. It's human nature, no disrespect to Fairfield."
Fairfield came in and showed no fear of the Friars. Having already played Connecticut and Georgetown, the Stags were not about to back down to a Big East squad. And new coach Ed Cooley had the team playing hard. "You learn from the guys you work with," said Welsh. "Ed runs a lot of the same stuff that Al (Skinner) does. They work really hard, he changes defenses, they're playing their hearts out."
The Stags attacked PC inside, and the Friars had difficulty denying the entry pass to the post. The obvious plan was to try to get Herbert Hill in foul trouble, and freshman Greg Nero repeatedly posted Hill up, or found teammates open for passes to the baseline for layups. Fairfield needed this, as they are not a particularly adept three point shooting team.
As physical as the Friars play, Fairfield has some beefy players who like to bang, as well. From the get-go, Anthony Johnson tangled with Geoff McDermott in an attempt to take McDermott out of his game. Geoff picked up two early fouls, and spent most of the game in a state of frustration, finishing with 2 points on 0-1 shooting and 5 rebounds, in 34 minutes. Sharaud Curry also had an off game in terms of scoring, with 8 points on 2-9 shooting, although he did have 9 assists versus only one turnover.
However, even though PC's two super sophs had off games, the Friars were able to win – an important step in their maturation as a team. Herb Hill had an unstoppable second half and finished with 18 points and 7 rebounds, and Weyinmi Efejuku was brilliant at times with indescribable drives to the basket for 17 points, but the player who truly stepped up was freshman guard Dwain Williams.
Williams played 26 minutes, and sparked the lethargic Friars. The freshman is a flat-out scorer. Upon entering the game, he immediately knocked down a three, and every time that Fairfield closed the gap, or the PC offense seemed to stagnate against the Stags zone, Williams drilled a three. In all, he scored 19 points, on 7-11 shooting, including 5-6 threes, and he even threw in a coast-to-coast drive for a spectacular layup. "Dwain stepped up and made big shots tonight," said Welsh. "I was baffled when I saw him play this summer that he was still available. Every time I saw him, he had 30. Sure, its AAU, but still… and he's got ice water in his veins. We've moved our team away from a quicker guard-type team to a bigger team, but when we need quickness, he's the guy we go to."
In the first half, PC was never able to pull away. With a 28-20 lead and the ball, PC turned it over, and the Stags narrowed the deficit to 28-25. At the half, PC led 31-25, but it was far from comfortable.
A three by Williams opened a 43-31 lead but another Stag run cut the lead to 45-41 with 10:44 left. Two consecutive threes by Williams jumpstarted the offense and PC began to pull away. Coming down the stretch, the Friars were never threatened, as the lead remained in double digits. A layup by Hill with forty-nine seconds remaining provided the final score and the biggest margin of the game.
PC takes a chartered flight to Gainesville to face #7 Florida on Wednesday evening… The Friars shot 55% for the game, including 9-14 from three, but couldn't shake Fairfield… PC outrebounded the Stags 26-23, but it was a battle all night on the glass… Fairfield had 13 second chance points, compared with 7 by PC… Jon Kale and Ray Hall never seemed comfortable in this game… Crowd was 6958.
Friars Shake The Stags
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