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Welcome back to the Trentonian's Full-Court Press blog. Yes, we're still alive, and with the 2015-16 season rapidly approaching, it's time to fire up the old blog for another season. Check back here throughout the year for updates on all things Rider and Princeton, including coverage of both the MAAC and Ivy League. Feel free to drop me a line on twitter @kj_franko ( or email

Monday, February 29, 2016

New approach pays off for Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson

Sydney Johnson guided Fairfield to 18 wins this season, 11 more than last year. (John Blaine Photo)

Something had to change.

Fairfield had just finished a 7-24 season with a 63-33 loss to Saint Peter’s in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament and Sydney Johnson’s Stags were the laughingstock of the league, scoring nine seven points in the first half of that debacle.

If Johnson was going to keep his job, the style had to change.

And change drastically.

Johnson, who played at Princeton under the Hall of Famer Pete Carril and later coached the Tigers to their last NCAA Tournament berth, shifted from deliberate Princeton sets to an up-tempo style.

“I’ve tried to merge both of them,” Johnson said Monday on the MAAC conference call. “My best teams at Princeton and now at Fairfield have been good transition teams. I think just this year, we’re great at it.”

The Stags are averaging 77.8 points per game, about 19 more per outing than they did last season.

The number of field goal attempts is up from 50.9 per game to 60.3. They are also making 3-pointers at a 36.6 percent clip, better than last season’s 32.2 percent.

Some of that can be attributed to the new 30-second shot clock, but Fairfield still sits 25th nationally in possessions per game (75.9), according to the website, which measures basketball analytics.

“It’s always kind of been there, we’ve bumped it up a bit and that had to do with recruiting,” Johnson said. “We were able to bring in some guys who could play better in that style. I think it’s paid off.”

The Stags (18-12, 12-8) improved by 11 wins and earned the fifth seed in the conference tournament. They face Saint Peter’s once again, this time in a quarterfinal on Saturday.

Three players earned All-MAAC honors on Monday, led by leading scorer Marcus Gilbert, whose first-team nod puts him on the ballot for Player of the Year. Sophomore Tyler Nelson was a second-team selection and Curtis Cobb landed on the rookie team.

Johnson said his players took the shift in philosophy in stride.

“All of them looked at me like they didn’t understand what the big deal was because for them that’s how they came up, that’s how they learned the game, that’s why we were interested in bringing them here,” the fifth-year coach said. “In a team meeting, I’m kind of prepared to unveil this to them and they’re all kind of just nodding their head like, ‘all right let’s get down to business and just do it.’”

Johnson also made changes to his staff, bringing in a pair of former MAAC head coaches in Mitch Buonaguro and Tom Parrotta.

“The biggest thing is the incredible amount of experience the two of them bring both with the flow of the games and just how we work our team from media timeout to media timeout,” Johnson said. “Recruiting-wise a really keen eye for the talent that can excel in this league. Both of them have recruited some of the best players this league has ever had.”

Johnson, the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year, went on to a seven-year professional career overseas. He played in Italy and Spain with a 24-second shot clock and maybe learned the most important lesson of all.

“Getting buckets,” he said, “is how you kept your job.”


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