How many times will the Canisius men's basketball team have to swallow such a bitter pill as this?
That's what the Golden Griffins must be wondering in the aftermath of their 91-85 overtime loss to the Fairfield Stags Friday night in front of 1,057 Koessler Athletic Center fans.
The Griffs were ahead by as many as 13 points in the second half, but they deteriorated behind poor offensive decisions and casual defensive play.
Canisius failed to recover after numerous rushed shots and turnovers in the second half and overtime, allowing Fairfield to break a three-game losing streak and post just its second Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference victory in six tries.
Having a lead only to fritter it away is becoming commonplace for Canisius.
The Griffs were ahead by 21 points well into the second half before losing in overtime at Siena on Jan. 21 and also fell at Loyola last Saturday.
"This was a game we should have put away," Canisius coach Mike MacDonald said. "We have to finish them. We have to be better at it. We have to. A lot of that comes down to decision making.
"There's a fine line in this league. There's not much difference between first place and last place, and what you have to do, if your margin of error is not that good, is be perfect execution-wise, understanding time and score, taking care of the ball offensively and getting some stops."
The loss places Canisius and Fairfield in a tie for seventh place in the 10-team MAAC at 4-7. The Griffs are 11-8 overall, while the Stags are 8-12.
Chris Rivers, Fairfield's 6-foot-6 off guard, recorded career and game highs with 29 points and 13 rebounds. Rivers scored 24 of the Stags' first 44 points.
Canisius center Darren Fenn, making his first home start since injuring his knee in December, scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Tory Jefferson added 15 points and 12 boards, and Toby Foster scored 15 points behind 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range.
But those performances were tempered by Clive Bentick's. The senior guard had seven assists and no turnovers, but he shot 3 of 14 from the floor, including 1 of 8 in the second half. Bentick went 0 for 6 from behind the arc.
"Bentick forced it all night," MacDonald said. "Fairfield did a good job of stopping him, and he tried to win it himself. We're not good enough to get away with that."
Canisius led, 49-36, with 15:15 to play before Fairfield went on a 16-7 run to close the gap to six points.
"Even when we were up (in the second half)," MacDonald said, "I never liked our defensive intensity the entire night or our flow offensively. The numbers at halftime looked pretty good, but I think the numbers lied."
The Griffs stretched the margin back to double digits, 62-52, with 7:54 left. But, behind nine straight points from forward Sam Spann (21 points, 13 rebounds), the Stags ignited for a 14-3 rally and their first lead since midway through the first half.
But Canisius battled back in the final minutes of regulation.
As the closing seconds ticked away, Canisius guard Brian Dux drove the lane for a potential game-winning layup, but was fouled by Jermaine Clark with 2.3 showing on the clock.
Dux, a 79 percent shooter from the line, nailed his first attempt and missed the second, leaving the score tied at 73.
There wasn't nearly as much drama in overtime. Jefferson and Foster gave the Griffs an early advantage with three-pointers, but the Stags rattled off the next seven points to take an 84-81 lead with 41.3 seconds to go.
Fairfield converted nine of its last 10 free throws to ice the game.
Canisius shot just 59 percent (10 of 17) from the line.
The victory was Fairfield's first at the Koessler in eight years and completed the school's first Western New York sweep of Canisius and Niagara since the Big 4 schools joined the MAAC in 1989-90.