Fairfield 59, Army 54
WEST POINT, N.Y. Army cut a 15-point second-half deficit to just one point, but Fairfield scored nine of the final 14 points to hang on for a 59-54 victory on Tuesday night at Christl Arena. The Black Knights finished non-conference play with a 4-10 mark, while the Stags improved to 9-6 on the season.
Freshman G Julian Simmons recorded his fourth double-digit scoring game of the season with a career-high 19 points. It marked the first time in his young career that he reached double-figures in back-to-back games (15 at Dartmouth). Simmons was 7 for 19 from the floor, including a career-best four three-pointers. He also contributed a career-best four rebounds in a season-high 37 minutes of work.
“Julian loves to play, and he has a good scoring mentality,” Army head coach Jim Crews said. “He has gone from shooting the ball every time to never shooting it, but we’re starting to get more balanced where he’s finding a groove with that. He’s doing a good job.”
Simmons was the only Army player in double figures. Junior F Eric Zastoupil added nine points, and junior F Cleveland Richard contributed eight points, a game-high five rebounds and four assists.
Greg Nero led the Fairfield attack with a game-high 23 points. He hit all seven of his field goal attempts and connected on nine of his 11 foul shots. He just missed a double-double with a game-high nine rebounds. Yorel Hawkins added 13 points, while Anthony Johnson completed the trio with 11 points. Jonathan Han handed out a game-high six assists.
Neither team cracked the 40-percent mark from the floor. Fairfield hit 17 of 43 shots (.395), while Army connected on 20 of 55 field goal attempts (.364). Led by Simmons’ 4 for 9 night, Army was 6 for 20 from deep, while the Stags were just 2 of 17 from long range.
Fairfield outscored the Black Knights 23-8 from the foul line. It marked the fourth time this season that Army’s entire margin of defeat could be accounted for at the free throw stripe.
“That was the most physical team we have faced this year,” Crews said. “Nero really takes it to the bucket. He is all man. They really finish strong and take it right to you. I thought we did a really good job blocking out. We had a good comeback, but we made some mental mistakes. We had a little bit better chemistry tonight.”
Army started slow, making only three of its first 18 shots from the floor. Both teams struggled from deep, combining to miss the first 11 three-point attempts of the game.
Neither team led by more than two until Hawkins hit a three-pointer with 10:33 left put Fairfield on top 11-6. Four straight free throws were a part of a 9-0 run that extended the lead to 15-6. Junior C Chris Walker hit a layup to end a five-minute and 11-second drought and kick start a 7-2 Army run that pulled the Black Knights within four points at 17-13 with 6:43 left. Fairfield scored the next four points to reclaim an eight-point lead. Simmons hit Army’s first three-pointer to cut the deficit to 23-18, but Sean Grzeck answered with a triple of his own, and the Stags were able to again take a nine-point lead on a free throw. A three-point play by Richard made it 27-21 with 35 seconds left, and neither team could find the basket for the remainder of the half.
Army shot 9 of 28 (.321) in the first half, and were just 2 of 10 from three, both by Simmons. Fairfield was slightly better from the floor at 7 for 20 overall (.350), but made just 2 of 11 shots from the field.
A fastbreak layup by Simmons cut the Fairfield lead to 29-25 with 17:41 left in the second half, but the Stags went on a 13-2 run to establish a 15-point advantage at 42-27 with 12:22 left. A 17-4 Army run, that included by a four-point play by Simmons , pulled the Black Knights back within two at 46-44 with 5:22 left in the contest. The rookie from Katy, Texas scored eight of Army’s points during the spurt. The Stags rebuilt a four-point advantage on the strength of four free throws by Nero, but Simmons struck again with a three-pointer from the corner to cut the Black Knights’ deficit to one point at 50-49 with 3:28 left.
The Stags started their game-ending run on the ensuing possession when Johnson finished an alley-oop pass from Han to make it 52-49. Hawkins hit a pull-up jumper with one second left on the shot clock to extend the lead to five points with 2:03 remaining. A jumper by junior G Josh Miller brought Army within three points with under a minute remaining. Johnson made one of two foul shots, but Nero pulled down an offensive rebound that led to a pair of free throws by Han that gave the Stags a 57-51 lead with 35 seconds left. Army missed its next field goal attempt, and Han hit another two free throws to push the lead back to eight points at 59-51. Zastoupil hit a three-pointer with nine seconds remaining, but the Black Knights were unable to draw any closer.
The Stags’ 59 points were the fewest by an Army opponent in a loss since Presbyterian scored a 59-43 win on Dec. 1.
Army opens its conference schedule on Saturday, Jan. 10 when it hosts Colgate at 4 p.m. The Black Knights and Raiders split last season’s series with each team winning on its home floor.
Game Notes: Marcus Nelson missed his first three-point attempt of the season. He was 2 for 2 entering the game ... Army turned the ball over 12 times in the first half after committing only 10 for the game last time out at Dartmouth ... Julian Simmons’ 19 points is the most by an Army freshman since Chris Walker had 23 against VMI in 2006-07... The five-point decision marked only the second time this season an Army game has been decided by six or less. Army had 16 games decided by that margin last season ... Army is now 6-25 in its last 31 games when being outrebounded ... Simmons’ four-point play was the Black Knights’ first of the season ... Army has yet to win back-to-back games this season ... The Black Knights open conference play with two straight home games and five of their first six league outings at Christl Arena.