Tonight's battle between Marist and Fairfield went just about as expected for a game between schools tied with 9-6 league records. Double overtime, won in the end by the home-standing Stags, now winners of five straight. But how this game got to its conclusion is something that will be talked about from now until the entire conference shows up in Albany, NY for the conference tournament.
In a tie game with 2.6 seconds remaining in regulation, Marist tried to throw an inbounds pass the length of the floor for an attempt at a game-winner, only to have the pass picked off by Fairfield's Mamadou Diakhate. Diakhate, in an attempt to avoid either going out of bounds or travelling with the ball, threw the ball to guard Lyndon Jordan. Jordan catches the ball and then...well, it sure looked like he called a timeout with 0.7 seconds remaining while Anthony Johnson was telling him not to. Fairfield had no timeouts remaining, which would have resulted in a technical foul. Correction, it should have resulted in a technical foul, because in the replay you can see Jordan make the hand signal.
But it was not called, as the officiating crew (after reviewing the play on the courtside monitor) concluded that Diakhate travelled. I saw two steps, but hey, I don't have a whistle so it doesn't matter what I saw. Marist nearly won on a Ryan Schneider shot from the baseline that would have brought back images of Larry Bird had he made it, as he was behind the backboard upon release. The first overtime was relatively quiet until Anthony Johnson, a poor free throw shooter (52% for the season) made two from the line to tie the score at 80.
Double overtime featured an interesting foul call on Ryan Stilphen (after he was hit in the face, causing a bloody nose), resulting in three free throws for Diakhate. Two more came in the form of a techincal called on Stilphen for arguing the foul. After the technical, Diakhate proceeded to make just one of three from the line...and then clap as if he had won the national title. Once the game got to 86-85 Fairfield and Johnson headed back to the line with 0.9 seconds remaining, Matt Brady used a strategy more teams should use in this situation.
After Johnson missed the first, Brady had Jay Gavin repeatedly commit a lane violation, essentially forcing Johnson to make a foul shot. The third try was the charm, and I'm wiling to bet that if Johnson continued to miss the teams could still be playing, on the foul line in the second OT. Fairfield got the win, moving within one game of first place after yet another wild night in the MAAC. Marty O'Sullivan, a 5th year senior who seemed destined to finish his career plastered to the bench, went for 23 and 10 for the Stags. Jonathan Han (Fairfield) and David Devezin (Marist) both played all fifty minutes at the point, with this being the fifth straight game in which Devezin played every minute. He only played 39 minutes in Marist's 79-65 loss to Rider back on January 30th.
So, is it a shock that the Stags are within one game of first place? When you take into consideration what they looked like during the non-conference portion of the schedule, yes. But they had a similar "rebirth" last season, seeming to get off the mat on the referee's count of nine. Han has been the catalyst, making fewer mistakes and creating for both himself and his teammates. After tonight, both of these teams are among the many (six, to be more specific) that could end up with the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
This weekend in the MAAC saw co-leaders Rider and Siena drop two games apiece, allowing both Loyola (MD) and Niagara to move into first place. Even Manhattan (who beat Siena tonight) and Iona are capable of springing an upset or two in the conference tournament, but I don't expect the same of either St. Peter's or Canisius. Now comes a brief respite from league play in the form of O'Reilly BracketBusters, then back into league play for two more. Of course, there is a tiebreaker in place for three or more teams. But did anyone really think there was a good chance of having to use it when the season began?
St. Peter's 3-13