BRIDGEPORT -- With their shots not falling and the ball slipping through their fingers, the Fairfield Stags could have easily packed it in at halftime Friday night.
Instead, the Stags relied on what they do best -- play defense -- in the second half to grind out a 54-52 exhibition victory over the University of Bridgeport in front of 1,393 fans at the Webster Bank Arena.
Senior guard Desmond Wade drained a 3-pointer to give Fairfield its two-point lead with 1.9 seconds left, which was only the second time the Stags led all night. The Purple Knights' final shot at the buzzer fell short from 30 feet out.
"The beginning of the game we struggled offensively, but that's going to come because we work at it every day," Wade said. "The veterans know what we have to do, but we have to bring the freshmen along. We'll be good."
The Stags struggled on offense even last year with a veteran cast, but still led the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in defense (61.1 points).
Trailing 33-19 at the half to UB after committing 14 turnovers and shooting 32 percent (8-for-25), the veteran Stags went back to their roots.
"I made it a point in the second half to just play hard and with a lot of energy," said junior Keith Matthews, who set up Wade's game-winning shot by grabbing the rebound off Dion Waiters' missed free throw. "Offensively, shots come and go, some days you'll be on and some days you'll be off, but you can't let our offense dictate our defense.
"I feel like we kind of did that in the first half, then in the second half we buckled down."
Despite having players stuck in New York City during Hurricane Sandy and having to rely on coaches to help field a full practice Thursday night, the Purple Knights took charge early.
East Wyoming transfer Ivan Simic scored all nine of his points in the first half, and the Purple Knights shot 40.6 percent to lead by double figures. UB shot just 30.8 percent (8-for-26) in the second half.
"I was proud of our guys -- proud as ever -- but I think this is one that you have to get done here," said UB coach Mike Ruane, who knocked off the Stags three years ago in the preseason. "I give them credit. Their pressure turned the tables. Their pressure turned the game around and they got it going, but with that said, we still had the lead with under 20 seconds to go."
Aside from briefly leading 49-48 with 2:11 to play, the Stags played catch-up all night until the end. Derek Needham led Fairfield with 15 points and Matthews added eight.
Waiters led UB with 12 points, Dezmond Hickman had 11 and Lloyd Antoine added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"That's a very mature group and we are going to face this" said Fairfield coach Sydney Johnson, who used four of his five freshmen against UB.
"I hope our fans will be patient with this team because we are going to face teams that look more experiencd than we are because they are."
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Ivan Simic 4-11 0-0 9 Lloyd Antoine 3-9 4-6 10 Darian David 3-8 0-0 6 Dezmond Hickman 4-10 2-2 11 Jahmill Jenkins 1-5 0-0 2 Dion Waiters 5-12 2-3 12 Dom Oneil Moorer 0-0 0-0 0 Eddie Asamoah 1-1 0-0 2 Ognjen Zoric 0-2 0-0 0 Adam Glantz 0-0 0-0 0 Frank Dogali 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 21-58 8-11 52.
Josip Mikulic 2-7 0-0 4 Maurice Barrow 3-8 1-4 7 Keith Matthews 3-3 2-2 8 Derek Needham 3-13 6-6 15 Desmond Wade 3-8 0-0 7 Justin Jenkins 0-4 0-0 0 Marcus Gilbert 2-3 0-0 6 Amadou Sidibe 3-3 1-2 7 Colin Nickerson 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 19-52 10-14 54.
Halftime: Bridgeport 33-19. 3-pointers: Bridgeport 2-11 (Simic 1-4, David 0-2, Hickman 1-2, Jenkins 0-1, Waiters 0-1, Zoric 0-1); Fairfield 6-18 (Mikulic 0-3, Needham 3-8, Wade 1-3, Jenkins 0-1, Gilbert 2-2, Nickerson 0-1). Rebounds: Bridgeport 41 (Antoine 10); Fairfield 35 (Mikulic 8). Assists: Bridgeport 3 (Jenkins, Waiters, Zoric); Fairfield 12 (Needham 4). Team fouls: Bridgeport 17, Fairfield 15. Fouled out: Bridgeport--Simic; Fairfield--Nickerson. Attendance: 1393.