|Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson gives instructions during the win over Rider/ Photo by JOHN BLAINE|
LAWRENCEVILLE — Sydney Johnson wasn’t concerned about his
Fairfield Stags staring 0-2 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
He just asked them to play like men.
The rest would work itself out.
“If we play like men, we’re going to be fine,” said Johnson
after Fairfield beat Rider, 65-52, Sunday afternoon. “We have a talented team.
There are a lot of other talented teams in our league. I’m not making any bold
predictions, but if we play like we did tonight, we’re going to be fine.”
Johnson is in his second season at Fairfield after spending
four years in charge of his alma mater, Princeton.
He signed a contract extension earlier this month that keeps
him at the school through the 2018-19 season.
The Stags went 22-15 in his first season, reaching the MAAC
tournament final. They advanced to the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com
Johnson has his squad off to a 5-5 start (1-1 MAAC) this
year following Sunday’s victory.
“We found a way to gut out a win,” said Johnson, whose team
survived a 7:29 drought in the first half.
Fairfield forced Rider into 30 turnovers, using a full-court
trap to rattle the Broncs.
“That’s a heck of a number,” Johnson said. “What can I say?
Our guys were really locked in. We left some things out on the court (against
Canisius) that we shouldn’t have. Our guys were really focused to take care of
Fairfield has non-league games remaining against Milwaukee,
Drexel, at St. Joseph’s and at Old Dominion before league play resumes.
The Stags lost leading scorer Rakim Sanders (graduation),
leaving them without a true go-to guy.
Derek Needham, their standout senior guard, is the only
player averaging in double figures.
Still, Johnson feels like the roles are defined. He’s
brining senior Desmond Wade and junior Maurice Barrow, a former MAAC all-rookie
team member, off the bench. He inserted senior Colin Nickerson into the
starting lineup for Wade.
Barrow scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and
Nickerson added 13 points.
“After those three guys,” Johnson said referring to his
senior trio, “everybody else knows where they stand. They just got to bring
Following Sunday’s win, it’s clear Johnson is putting his stamp
down on his new home.
“We’re starting to develop that mental toughness,” he said.