If Saint Joseph's had any rust from an 11-day layoff since its last game, it didn't show in the form of shooting the basketball.

The Hawks drained 29 of 55 shots (52.7 percent) from the floor and downed host Fairfield, 78-70, last night at Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.

"This game is the hardest game of the year," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "We just got done exams and know we're going into Christmas. Sometimes we forget that these are kids ranging from 18 to 22. But the days off allowed us to work on some things in practice."

Fairfield (2-8) raced out to an 18-8 lead as the Stags hit six of their first seven shots.

St. Joe's (5-4) raced back with a 14-4 run, tying the game, 22-22, on a steal and dunk by Garrett Williamson with 6 minutes, 40 seconds to go in the first half. The Hawks then reeled off 20 of the game's next 26 points to take a 42-28 lead at the break.

Ahmad Nivins, the Hawks' leading returning scorer, had averaged just 6.1 shots a game and was held without a field-goal attempt when the Hawks fell to Creighton in their last game. But in the first half last night, the 6-9 forward made four of his five shots and the defense forced nine Fairfield turnovers - two areas Martelli has worked on in those practice sessions.

"We've addressed establishing some balance on the floor," Martelli said. "We've addressed having confidence in the zone defense and we've addressed Ahmad getting more self confidence. We need him to become more of a force. We know it and he knows it."

St. Joe's opened the lead to as many as 17 in the second half, before Fairfield cut it to 63-58 with 6:20 to go. The lead was 71-64 when Williamson pilfered a Fairfield pass, drove the court and hit Rob Ferguson, who nailed a three-pointer to give the Hawks a 10-point lead with 1:07 to go.

Tasheed Carr, who scored 14 points in the second half, and Pat Calathes led the Hawks with 18 apiece. Carr also contributed six rebounds and six assists, while Calathes had a team-high nine rebounds. Nivins finished with 15 and Ferguson followed with 14.

Mike Evanovich scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half to help keep Fairfield close. Anthony Johnson added 16 and Jonathan Han chipped in 12 for the Stags.

The Hawks embark on yet another prolonged break before playing at Siena on Friday. Martelli welcomes it.

"It's important for this group to get practice time in," he said. "The schedule is what it is. I don't mind having the extra practice time. It's important for us to get this team into a rhythm." *