Fairfield falls 48-44 in MAAC final to Loyola (Md)
By PAT EATON-ROBB
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) Fairfield's defense held Loyola-Maryland to just eight baskets and 22 points in the second half.
But the Stags scored just six field goals and lost the MAAC championship 48-44, and with it a chance to earn the program's first NCAA berth since 1997.
"We held Loyola to 48 points and you figure in a Division I basketball game you're going to win that game," Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson said. "But they one-upped us."
Fairfield led 30-26 at halftime. But Loyola opened the second half with an 11-1 run and earned its second berth in an NCAA tournament. The first came in 1994, when the Greyhounds were coached by the late Skip Prosser.
Erik Etherly had 10 points and seven rebounds to lead Loyola (24-8), which is having its best season as a Division I program.
Loyola went into a pressing defense and held Fairfield without a point for almost 8 minutes after intermission.
"I said, `We are going to take it up a notch and we are going to press on every make,'" said Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos. "We are going full force. It's time. Not that there is anything wrong with pacifism or middle-of-the-road intellectualism, but I said, `It's time for anger.'"
Loyola shot just 33 percent, but held Fairfield to 29 percent and just six second-half field goals.
Rakim Sanders scored 12 points and Ryan Olander had 11 for Fairfield (19-14), which upset the tournament's top seed, Iona, in Sunday's semifinals. Maurice Barrow added 10 points and 13 rebounds in the losing effort.
Fairfield missed its first 13 shots after intermission and went 7:48 without a point, before a foul shot by Desmond Wade. A jump shot by Etherly capped Loyola's run and gave the Greyhounds a 37-31 lead.
Colin Nickerson broke the Fairfield field-goal drought with a layup, but a 3-point play by Jordan Lathem stretched the lead back to seven.
It was 47-41 when Wade hit a fall-away 3-pointer to cut the Greyhounds' lead to just three points with just more than 2 1/2 minutes left. Fairfield had several chances to tie the game, but missed three 3s in the last minute.
"We just weren't able to get the stops and the baskets we needed to get over the hump," Olander said.
Shane Walker's foul shot gave the Greyhounds their final margin of victory.
Etherly, who scored 21 points in each of Loyola's first two tournament games, picked up two fouls in the first 90 seconds of this one. He didn't have another one all game.
"I stopped going for the pump fakes," he said.
Loyola used a 10-2 run to go up 16-9 midway through the first half.
Fairfield responded with a 7-0 run to tie the game as the Stags had success going inside. An assist, a blocked, shot and two free throws from Olander put Fairfield up 23-20, and his 3-pointer and another blocked shot helped send the Stags into the half up 30-26.
The Stags scored just 14 points after halftime.
"We kind of got away from what we normally do," Olander said.
The two teams split their regular-season meetings, each winning on the other's home floor - Loyola by three points in Bridgeport on Jan. 13 and the Stags beat the Greyhounds 68-51 in Maryland on Feb. 12.
That was one of three losses in the Stags' final four regular-season games. But Fairfield came alive during the tournament, avenging a regular season-ending loss to Rider in the opening round, and beating Iona by 10 points Sunday.
Fairfield has been playing without its starting point guard, Derek Needham, who broke his left foot on Feb. 24 in a loss at Iona, and Wade, the backup, picked up his third foul early in the second half.
Loyola, the tournament's second seed, breezed through their first two games in the tournament, beating Niagara by 13 points and Siena by 10. This was the just the Greyhounds second trip to the conference finals. They beat Manhattan in the 1994 championship game.
The Greyhounds are just one win from tying the school record for victories in a season, set back in 1948-49. This is their first 20-win campaign as a Division I program.
"We want to be great," said senior Shane Walker. "We didn't want to just be good. We didn't want to just win 20 games. We actually wanted to get to the NCAA tournament and be one of the best teams to every play at Loyola."
Fairfield, which was playing in its seventh conference championship game, has not been to the NCAA tournament since winning the MAAC title in 1997.
Johnson said he's hopeful his team has done enough to get some type of postseason bid.
"That would take some of the sting away," he said. "Some, not all."
Fairfield's women lost earlier in the day to Marist in the women's conference final.
Updated March 5, 2012