On Monday evening, the Iona Gaels captured their third consecutive MAAC championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament with a 83-71 victory over the Fairfield Stags. From a big-picture view of things, that was easily the largest takeaway of the evening in Albany. However, a moment near the end of the game served as a clear reminder that there was much more involved than the final score.
In the waning seconds, Fairfield’s leading scorer, Tyler Nelson, was subbed off the floor for the final time in his career. Nelson then shared a poignant moment with head coach Sydney Johnson, who became overwhelmed with emotion.
While a senior reaching the end of his college basketball career is a common occurrence in March, Nelson is far from a “regular” college senior. With a 25-point effort in the MAAC title game, Nelson finished his stellar four-year career with 2,172 points and, as a result, holds the school record for scoring. Beyond that, he sits comfortably within the top ten players in scoring in the history of the MAAC and, while Nelson may not be a household name, his impact on the Fairfield program is immeasurable.
Fairfield’s run as a Cinderella (the team finished with a 17-16 overall record and a 9-9 mark in conference play) didn’t quite materialize in storybook fashion. But this particular moment, captured on national television through the magic of ESPN, was a reminder that the relationship between coach and player can produce heartwarming moments like this.