BRIDGEPORT — Jay Young’s team was trailing by 15 points with less than 5 minutes to play in his first game as a Division I head coach.
But Fairfield had one last gasp left. The Stags reeled off 13 unanswered points against Bucknell and were within a basket of tying the game Tuesday night at Webster Bank Arena.
The comeback, though, felt just short. Young’s debut ended with a 68-64 loss in a game that was moving toward a blowout before a frantic comeback in the waning minutes.
Jesus Cruz scored a game-high 24 points for the Stags, including a layup off a spin move with 29 seconds left that made it 64-62. Cruz had eight of Fairfield’s 13 points during a run that began with 4 minutes, 26 seconds left.
It was 33-33 at halftime, but Bucknell seized control in the second half and rode a 9-0 run to a 15-point lead. Fairfield, however, began its comeback on a 3-pointer by Landon Taliaferro (17 points), who sank the Stags’ only 3s of the game — Young’s team missed 10 of 12 from behind the arc.
After the 3-pointer, there was a pair of baskets by Cruz. Vincent Eze scored on a layup and Cruz converted a basket off a turnover with 1:48 left.
There would be another Bucknell turnover before another Cruz basket. And after a missed 3-pointer by Bucknell’s Andrew Funk, Cruz drove and spun through the lane before scoring.
It was a two-point game with 29 seconds left.
But Fairfield could not tie as Bucknell was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final seconds. Taj Benning (12 points, seven rebounds) converted a layup off his own miss with four seconds left, but it was not enough.
John Meeks led Bucknell with 19 points, while Bruce Moore added 15. Fairfield shot 40.7 percent (24 of 59) and Bucknell 40 percent (22 of 55), but there was a significance difference on 3-pointers — Bucknell was 10 of 23, Fairfield 2 of 12.
Fairfield, coming off a 9-22 season, lost two of its top three scorers and was picked to finish 11th in the 11-team MAAC.
He also had a long career as an assistant at Salem State, Fitchburg State, and Northeastern, along with head coaching stops at Newbury and New Haven.
But a Division I head coaching job remained his goal and Young achieve it Tuesday night.
The Stags are back at Webster Bank Arena Saturday afternoon to face UMass (1 p.m.).