Lackluster Wagner allowed Lafayette to go on a big run early in the first half and never recovered in a 77-65 loss at the Spiro Sports Center on Staten Island this Tuesday night.
The Seahawks were playing without head coach Bashir Mason, who was suspended by the school for one game after being ejected from Wagner’s last game against UIC. Instead assistant coach Mike Babul took the reigns for the evening and was quite busy.
Mason was forced to watch the game on the league’s digital package NEC Front Row. From where he sat it wasn’t impressive.
“I saw a bad basketball team,” Mason said. “No fight. No energy. No effort. Lackadaisical. Going through the motions.”
After Wagner captured an early lead the Leopards went on a 19-2 run with 14:31 remaining in the first half. The only Wagner points came from two Kenneth Ortiz free throws, but Ortiz found himself on the bench for almost the remainder of the half after picking up his second foul.
Without their point guard on the court to guide them, the Seahawks struggled to recover. Missed free throws, layups and dunks were the order of the evening. Only the shooting prowess of Jay Harris – who finished with 23 points on 8-15 shooting, including 7-11 from three – saved Wagner from utter disaster.
“I saw the ball go in on the first shot,” Harris said. “Making the first shot always changes the game. The second this is that [Ortiz] made it a point to get me the ball when he saw I was hot.”
As a young assistant making his temporary head-coaching debut, Babul worked hard to stem the tide, but he was forced to shuffle lineups due to Wagner’s now chronic foul trouble. Babul called multiple timeouts during the first half and the Seahawks seemed to have survived as they were down just seven at halftime.
But the energy was never there to finish a comeback and Lafayette led wire-to-wire during the second half. As Wagner would make a run the Leopards, thanks to a balanced scoring effort, would push the margin right back out. Four Leopards finished in double-figures led by Bryce Scott’s 18 points. Babul could only hold his hands against his head after a turnover by Ortiz with the Seahawks down eight sealed Wagner’s fate.
“We let outside things, things that have nothing to do with basketball, it affects how we are on the court,” Harris said.
The loss to a Leopards squad that came in 1-5 overall was a microcosm of everything that’s currently plaguing the talented, yet extremely inconsistent Seahawks. Foul trouble continues to knock on the Seahawks’ door (23 personal fouls in this game) mangling lineups and forcing whoever in on the sidelines into difficult situations. The defense is inconsistent, seemingly due mostly to mental breakdowns. Lafayette certainly wasn’t taller or more athletic than Wagner, but the Leopards played the Seahawks to a stalemate on the glass and took better care of the basketball.
Thanks to Harris’ excellent shooting and a commitment by Ortiz and Latif Rivers to get to the rim in the second half the Wagner offense played alright. But Lafayette is a team designed to make an offense look great. There were still too many turnovers (16 in all including at least two by six different players) and numerous mental mistakes.
Coming off the bench for the first time this season, Mario Moody had perhaps his worst game, going 0-7 from the field and scoring zero points in 10 minutes. The rangy Wagner forward, known for his rim-rattling dunks, also managed to get rejected by the orange cylinder twice in the same play during the second half.
“Making a change I thought we could get off to a better defensive start,” Mason said. “Just more of a stable group and not a sporadic group. I thought we got off to a good start and when we went into our bench we fell apart a little bit.”
The worst part of the loss could be that the Seahawks may struggle to find as good an opportunity to get a victory for the remainder of the non-conference schedule. Wagner doesn’t play another home game in December. Instead, they’ll embark upon a four-game road trip to Penn, Rider, La Salle and Monmouth. Going .500 during that trip would be unexpected and require much more effort than Wagner showed on Tuesday night.