After middling season, Sydney Johnson trying to win MAAC tourney with Fairfield
But there is something about Fairfield that appealed to him.
Like next weekend’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament. The Ivy League, of course, awards its NCAA bid to the regular season champion.
“We have a chance to play some basketball on a neutral in T.V. games,” Johnson said Sunday after his Stags fell to Rider, 65-62 at Alumni Gymnasium. “It’s a really special time of year we are now a part of, where at my former spot, we couldn’t have that experience.”
Johnson took Princeton to the NCAA tournament last season, nearly upsetting Kentucky in the first round, but chose to leave for Fairfield after the season.
His Stags – with two preseason First Team All-League players and impact transfer Rakim Sanders – were expected to compete for the regular-season championship.
Johnson talked all season about being the hunted and playing with a bull’s-eye on their backs.
But his team started slow, beginning league play 5-4 before running off seven in a row to get back in the title picture.
The Stags saw their championship hopes die Friday night in their loss to Iona.
“We had a crack at it the other night,” Johnson said. “I thought we played really well but they are just that good.”
Following Sunday’s loss to Rider, the two meet again in the 4-5 game next Saturday in the conference tournament.
They split the regular season meetings, each winning at home.
“I don’t want to overanalyze it,” Johnson said of meeting the Broncs again in less than a week. “I’m thankful we don’t play until Saturday. They’re a really good team and they’ve been playing their best basketball. I don’t see any reason why they would take a step back.”
Fairfield played without starting point guard Derek Needham, who injured his foot in the loss to Iona. Johnson said he’s still being evaluated and he hopes to know more next week.
If Johnson is going to reach the NCAA tournament for a second straight year, he’s going to need Needham healthy.
And maybe a little bit of luck.
Because Iona, most likely, is waiting.
“Derek’s a key figure – no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to make a habit of playing without him, but guys stepped up the other night and stepped up today. We just have to continue to play and play within ourselves.”