Stags and Greyhounds meet for MAAC Tournament title

Mar 5, 2012 - 3:46 PM Springfield, MA (Sports Network) - Shooting for their first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title since 1994, the second-seeded Greyhounds of Loyola-Maryland settle in against fourth-seeded Fairfield tonight in the championship game of the 31st annual event at the MassMutual Center.

Loyola, which entered this year's tournament with a record of just 7-21 over the years and has just the lone 80-75 win over Manhattan almost two decades to show for its trouble, took care of sixth-seeded Siena with a convincing 70-60 win in the semifinals on Sunday. A day earlier, the Greyhounds handled Niagara without much trouble as well in an 86-73 final.

As for the Stags, considering they had their second-leading scorer (Derek Needham) watching from the sidelines with a broken bone in his left foot, the odds were stacked against them to make it this far. However Fairfield, which appeared in the title game just two years ago when it lost to Siena in overtime (72-65), slipped by Rider on Saturday in the quarterfinals (65-63) and then stunned top-seeded Iona on Sunday afternoon (85-75).

The Stags have won this event a total of three times, but haven't taken home the trophy since a 78-72 victory against Canisius in the 1997 installment of the tourney.

The teams split a pair of regular-season meetings, with each winning on the road. At first it was Loyola coming up with a 66-63 victory in Connecticut back in January, and then the Stags returned the favor a month later with a more decisive 68-51 decision in Maryland. As a result, the all-time series now stands at 36-16 in favor of Fairfield.

Rakim Sanders dropped in a career-high 26 points and registered his ninth double-double of the season as he also pulled down 12 rebounds for the Stags as they somehow found a way to get over on Iona yesterday. Keith Matthews came up big for the group as he posted 14 points and four boards in just 19 minutes off the bench, his scoring output matched by Colin Nickerson. Ryan Olander added another 11 points and Desmond Wade made up for a mere 1-of-8 shooting performance as he handed out 11 assists. The team shot an impressive 59.6 percent from the floor and knocked down 7-of-14 shots behind the three-point line in order to offset 17 turnovers. Sanders continues to be a menace in the paint for the Stags with his 17.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and just when you thought there was no way to replace the production of Needham (11.8 ppg, 100 assists), a host of players step up to fill the void and keep Fairfield in action as the team manages to limit MAAC foes to only 59.9 ppg this season.

Perhaps most impressive about the win for Loyola yesterday was the fact that the Greyhounds kept Siena's OD Anosike grounded and to just five rebounds, which was a huge drop from his more than 12 rpg which led the nation. Overall, Loyola held a 34-25 edge on the glass thanks to Erick Etherly (21 points), Shane Walker (12 points) and Robert Olson (12 points), each of whom pulled down six boards of their own. Justin Drummond also made an impact in the scoring department with his 10 points off the bench for a team that shot 50.9 percent from the field and 7-of-13 behind the three-point line. Although he finished with just five points and turned the ball over four times in the win against the Saints, Dylon Cormier was still the leading scorer for the program heading into semifinal-round action with his 13.9 ppg. Etherly has since closed the gap with back-to-back 21-point performances and several other players have also stepped up their efforts as well, making the team tough to hold down.

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