Desi Washington had beaten Fairfield twice already this season with game-winning 3-pointers at the buzzer, so the Stags weren't about to let the Saint Peter's guard do it a third time at their expense.
As Washington raced up court with the score tied in the final seconds of Thursday's opening-round MAAC tournament matchup, three Fairfield defenders sprinted at him in an attempt to make sure he couldn't get a shot off.
Amazingly, it didn't matter. Fairfield's nemesis struck again.
Washington pulled up in front of his bench, rose over the outstretched arms of all three defenders and buried another 3-pointer as time expired to propel Saint Peter's to a 65-62 victory. The shot sent the Peacocks to the MAAC quarterfinals against second-seeded Manhattan and kept alive their hopes of winning the tournament and securing an automatic NCAA bid.
"This is my 22nd year, and I've never seen somebody beat the same team three times in one season," Saint Peter's coach John Dunne said late Thursday night. "We all kind of lost our minds a little bit. The guys were in disbelief. It was amazing. Those kinds of things don't happen."
In addition to being the most important of Washington's three game-winning shots against Fairfield, Thursday night's was also clearly the most difficult. The first was a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer to give Saint Peter's a 56-55 victory back on Jan. 8. The second was a step-back 3-pointer with two seconds remaining that secured a 63-62 win for the Peacocks on Feb. 25.
The third one was on a dead run, falling away from the basket and with a hand in Washington's face. Even Dunne admitted he thought it had little chance to fall when it left Washington's hands.
"The first two games he got clean looks off, and this time the whole game they were really up on him," Dunne said. "I don't think Fairfield could have done anything more. There were three guys around him. They had him corralled. He couldn't drive it and he didn't have time to pass it. Luck was on our side for sure."
Washington finished Thursday's game with 14 points on 6 of 15 shooting. It was the eighth time in nine games that the junior has scored in double figures, a big reason why Saint Peter's is 7-2 in its last nine games after getting off to a disastrous 3-9 start in MAAC play.
Saint Peter's will need more heroics from Washington to advance any further in the tournament. Manhattan is the co-favorite to win the MAAC tournament along with Iona and the Jaspers have already beaten the Peacocks twice by double figures.
One strategy Dunne may want to employ if the game is within reach in the final seconds: Convince Washington that the opponent is Fairfield.
"In this business, you don't usually feel bad for the other guys much, but Fairfield plays so hard and they've never given up on their season," Dunne said. You feel for them a little bit when they lose this way, but it was an unbelievable feat by Desi."
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