Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fairfield's Late Decision Enables it To Hold off Rider

To foul, or not to foul?

That's the decision coaches face when, leading by three points in the final seconds of a game.

Do you play perimeter defense and hope it an opponent cannot score a game-tying three-pointer, or do you foul and send an opponent to the line with a chance to tie the game on a tip-in on a missed free throw, if it can make the front end of that situation?

A year ago, when Sydney Johnson coached at Princeton, his team trailed by three late in the game. The opponent did not foul. Princeton made a difficult three to tie things and won in overtime.

With the role reversed, Johnson saw his Fairfield team clinging to a three-point lead in the final seconds against Rider and opted to foul the Broncs' Jeff Jones with two seconds remaining.

Jones made the first, purposely missed the second and teammate Junior Fotunat missed a slightly off-balance tip that would have tied the game.

Instead, the Stags held on for a 65-63 victory to advance to Sunday's 2 p.m. semifinal-round contest against top-seeded Iona.

"I don't have a hard and true philosophy about that situation," said Johnson. "It's a game-by-game consideration that depends on a few things ... how well the opposition can shoot threes and some other things. In this case we didn't want Rider getting a three with a chance to tie it."

And, probably, for good reason. Rider had made seven treys to that point including Jonathan Thompson's beyond-the-stripe shot a few seconds earlier that pulled Rider to within 63-62.

Fairfield then sank two free throws for its three-point edge that set up Johnson's decision to prohibit Rider from getting a last-second three-pointer.

Rider finishes 13-19 overall, but made a mid-season recovery from a 1-10 overall start.

"This group was resilient," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "We could have easily finished 5-25 but, instead we battled back. It was much like that today. We struggled early and had a competitive response. Guys stepped up to give us a pulse, a chance, late in the game."

Fairfield moves on without its top guard, junior Derek Needham, who suffered a season-ending foot injury on the final weekend of regular-season play.

In Needham's absence junior Desmond Wade realized he would have to take on more of the scoring load.

"Now, I feel like I have to step up and make shots," said Wade, who made 4-of-8 three pointers against Rider.

"We knew that playing without Derek that we'd have to play as well and as hard as we can," added Johnson, whose team is now 18-13 overall. "That's all I ask them to do ... play hard and stay together.

"I'm very thankful, considering all that has happened to us this year that we got through this and that we have another game."

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