Sunday, March 6, 2011

Stags' NIT Berth Not In Cooley's Thoughts

It was less than 20 minutes after his top-seeded Fairfield men's basketball team was ousted from the MAAC's post-season tournament in the semifinal round, courtesy of Saint Peter's 62-48 victory, and Stags' coach Ed Cooley was already being asked by a reporter for his thoughts on plaing in the National Invitation Tournament.

That secondary event automatically takes the MAAC's regular-season champion should that team not advance to the NCAA's field of 68 teams. With its 24-7 record and its unexpected loss in the MAAC event, Fairfield won't be part of the national-championship tournament's field.

But, Cooley said his thoughts aren't yet on his team's continued play this season.

"Am I thinking about the NIT yet? Not even a little bit," said Cooley. "I don't know when we'll starting getting ready for that. I am extremely proud that we're a post-season team again (the Stags played in the College Insiders Tournament last year), but it is never our goal to be a second-place team.

'Our goal is to be in an NCAA team every year. Will it happen? You have to get very lucky, and we weren't lucky today (in Sunday's loss)."

Fairfield's fall marks the first time in four years the event's top-seeded team has not advanced to the post-season tournament's championship game, an occurrence even more-pronounced since the Stags play their entire schedule at this year's tournament site, the Arena at Harbor Yard.

"We got close (to within six points after falling behind by 25 at halftime Sunday) ... we almost pulled it off," said Cooley. "But our we just weren't ready to play in the first half. We were listless and didn't have a lot of emotion.

"We fell victim to what has hurt us the entire year. We talked about habits from our first team meeting the first day of school in early September, and our bad habits caught us in the end. The 'devil' that got us again, our devil is the turnover."

Fairfield entered the contest committing 13.8 turnovers per game. Only four of the 10 conference teams committed more. On Sunday the Stags made 13 first-half miscues and 22 for the game. The winners capitalized by scoring 25 of their 62 points directly off Fairfield turnovers.

"Twenty-five points off turnovers ... that's a big number of points," said Cooley. "Especially for a team (Saint Peter's) that doesn't score that many points. But, for the first 20 minutes they really gave it to us. We weren't who we were this season.

"Was I stunned by what happened in the first half? I'm not stunned. These are kids, and they just didn't play well. You can't get down by 25 in a tournament game and expect to win, that's for damned sure. I wasn't upset with my players (at halftime). I was just coaching kids and trying to will them back. I was surprised, but not stunned.

"We came back ... almost pulled it off. But, I'm not a hero of second place or third place. I'm not big and saying you had a good season and giving slaps on the back for that."

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