It was a reversal of fortunes for the Fairfield University women’s basketball team in the 2017 MAAC Tournament.
The third seeded Stags drew the number six seed Marist in the Quarterfinals, a team that had beaten them twice during the regular season. The Red Foxes won 71-55 on Friday, Dec. 30 in Poughkeepsie, NY and 68-62 on Thursday, Feb. 16 on George Bisacca Court at Alumni Hall.
This time, however, Fairfield was able to solve Marist and came away with a convincing 61-44 victory behind 15 points from All-MAAC First Team senior forward Kelsey Carey and 12 from All-MAAC Third Team senior forward Casey Smith to advance to the semifinals.
“This was a great team effort,” said Joe Frager, who just completed his 10th year as head coach. “Marist had beaten us twice during the season. We tightened up some things defensively. We gave up some transition baskets in our second game that we needed to eliminate this time around and we had to do a better job controlling the dribble.”
Fairfield had a 16-10 lead after the first quarter and led by as much as 16 points in the first half after a 3-pointer by freshman guard Sam Kramer at 2:41 extended their lead to 32-16. The Stags had a nine point lead at halftime and shot 48.1 percent from the field and 62.5 percent from deep in the first half.
The Stags led for 37:54 and had their largest lead at 8:07 in the fourth quarter, a 52-33 advantage after a pair of free throws by senior forward Kristine Miller. They led by 19 three more times in the quarter – twice after Carey free throws and a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Kendra Landy at 2:53. They ended up winning by 17.
Fairfield advanced to take on a Rider team they defeated twice during the regular season in two tightly contested games. They won 68-67 in overtime on Saturday, Jan. 14 in Lawrenceville, NJ and by four points on Sunday, Feb. 26 on George Bisacca Court at Alumni Hall.
“Regular season does hold its meaning but when tournament time comes, it’s basically the start of a new season and you play every team again,” Carey said after the Stags’ Quarterfinal win over Marist. “Rider gave us a very hard-fought battle both times and they’re a very good team, but so are we. I think it’s just another game for us and we’re going to come clear minded and ready to play.”
But third time was the charm for Rider as the number two seed Broncs were able to avenge their two regular season losses with a stout defensive effort leading to a 49-36 win in the semifinals on Sunday, March 5.
Fairfield only converted one field goal in the first quarter, a jumper by Smith at 2:47, and trailed 10-2 at the end of one. They outscored Rider 11-7 in the second quarter and 15-8 in the third quarter, and headed into the fourth quarter with a three-point lead. But Rider dominated on both sides, outscoring the Stags 24-8 in the final quarter.
“I think we really grew as a team this year,” Carey said after the game reflecting on the season. “In the beginning, we kind of had to wake up a little bit and I think that was our biggest stepping stone. We realized that we can be as good as we were this season and we can go as far as we want. Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted today, but I really think we grew basketball-wise, skill-wise and person-wise. It was really cool to see and be a part of.”
The Stags ended their season with a 17-14 overall record and a 14-8 mark in conference play. And while this loss marked the end of the collegiate careers for seniors Carey, Smith and Miller, they leave the program in good hands and are appreciate for everything that Fairfield has done for them.
“I’m really grateful and thankful for the experience to play at Fairfield for both my education and basketball,” said Smith, who led the Stags with 13 points on 5-11 from the floor. “I had a great time and I can’t say enough about how much I love Fairfield and how much respect I have for the coaches, professors, trainers, everybody.”
“We have a lot to be proud about moving forward but my mind probably won’t be able to go there for a little while,” Frager said. “I’m very proud of our seniors for what they have done for us on the court. They’ve been fantastic kids and it’s hard to realize it in this moment, but they had themselves a very good season.”