By Paul Gotham
BUFFALO, NY — The Fairfield Stags started early, finished late and did a whole lot of work in between.
Maurice Barrow led all scorers with 21 as the Stags avenged an earlier defeat with a 66-45 victory over the Canisius Golden Griffins in Metro-Atlantic Athletic Conference action at the Koessler Athletic Center, Thursday night.
Barrow displayed and impressive mid-range game hitting nine-of-13 shots leading the Stags to their second win in conference action.
“Obviously, we know we played well,” said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson. “But I have to say Canisius has been the class of the league, so we had to play one of our best games. Our guys were tremendous in doing so. Obviously, we feel Canisius is going to be there in the hunt for the championship. We’re fortunate to get the win.”
Barrow came off the bench and paced a Fairfield attack which shot 14-of-28 from the field to take a 17-point lead at half.
“He’s just flourished,” Johnson said of Barrow. “He understands what we’re asking of him. He hasn’t pouted. He used to start. Now he is coming off the bench. He’s playing meaningful minutes. At the end of the day that’s the most important thing. I like his approach.”
The junior forward’s jumper off a screen and step back ignited a 13-0 run for the Stags. He followed on the next possession with a drive from the wing after Fairfield used ball reversal to create an advantage.
Marcus Gilbert hit one of two from the free throw line, and Derek Needham finished under the basket.
Barrow ended the run when he took a Josip Mikulic pass and cut through the lane for a deuce. Fairfield led 20-7.
“I thought I shot the ball well,” Barrow said. “Before the game (the coaches) have been telling me my shot is flat, so they have been telling me to get it up. For the last couple of days I have been practicing on shooting the ball. Today the results showed that I worked on it.”
Barrow started another spurt as Fairfield scored eight straight to take their largest lead of the first half. The 6-5 forward hit a pull-up jumper. Desmond Wade drove from the top for a lay-up and got contact underneath. After a made free throw, the Stags led 31-14. Wade added another free throw on the next trip for an 18-point bulge.
The Stags scored the first 11 of the game. Needham opened the scoring by using a high ball screen and nailing a three from 25 feet. Colin Nickerson added a pair of charity tosses. Keith Matthews slipped a ball screen for a basket at the rim. Matthews made it 9-0 with a catch-and-shoot jumper from the free throw line.
Canisius called a timeout, but the Stags continued rolling when Matthews hit a rebound and putback.
Canisius responded seven in a row. Billy Baron hit a long three. Chris Manhertz finished a rebound and putback. Manhertz followed with a dunk when Baron fed him from inside the top of the arc. Fairfield led 11-7.
But that was as close as Canisius got for the rest of the night. The Griffs entered play hitting almost 41 percent (126-for-309) behind the arc, but managed just three-of-15 Thursday night.
“They came out and pressured us and forced us to turn the ball over,” said Canisius head coach Jim Baron. “We had some lapses defensively early on that were costly. They made a couple of shots early, and that gave them confidence right off the bat. We dug ourselves a hole that we couldn’t get out of.”
Barrow scored 14 as Fairfield held a 34-17 advantage at the break.
Fairfield dominated the game in every aspect outscoring the Griffs in the paint (26-18), off turnovers (24-9), on second chance points (15-7) and on the fast break (10-0).
“They’re a good team,” Baron continued. “They won 22 games and went to the post-season. They’ve got some upper classmen that have been through it. They’re experienced. We beat ’em the first time. I told our guys that we’re going to have to match the intensity, and I felt we fell short of that.”
The Stags showed no let up in the second stanza. Matthews completed a traditional three-point play with layup and free throw to complete a 9-2 run and give Fairfield its largest lead of the game at 66-38.
Barrow led all scorers with 21 including three-of-four from the free throw line.
Needham added 10 hitting two-of- four behind the arc. The senior point guard added three assists, seven rebounds and a steal without committing a turnover.
“I don’t think we do anything without Derek,” Johnson said. “Derek has been fantastic. I feel like he is the most valuable player of this team in this conference, hands down. With all due respect, I just think without him I don’t know where we go. We’ve talked a lot about it. He knows how important he is to us. I feel like when he is in our locker room we have a chance to compete.”
Fairfield improves to 10-5 and 2-1 in the conference. The win was the Stags sixth in a row including a pair of recent road victories over St. Joseph’s and Old Dominion.
Manhertz notched his first double-double of the season with 13 rebounds and 11 points. The junior forward nearly matched the Stags with seven offensive rebounds. Fairfield, as a team, grabbed eight offensive boards.
Baron finished with 14 points.
Canisius falls to 9-5 overall and 2-1 in MAAC play.
Baron and Harold Washington scored 19 apiece as Canisius snapped the Stags’ nine-game winning streak in the series on December seventh with a 67-55 win. Thursday night, the Griffs committed 21 turnovers while handing out just six assists.
The Griffs host Marist, Saturday night. A 7 p.m. tipoff is scheduled at the KAC.