A month ago something changed for the Wagner Seahawks. After a dominating performance against Central Connecticut in the quarterfinals of the NEC tournament Wagner hopes that change will take the team to its ultimate goal, the NCAA tournament.
The 83-59 victory was Wagner’s ninth straight. The Seahawks haven’t lost since February 1 at St. Francis Brooklyn. The entire team has bought into a common ethos. Some had no choice. This is the last chance for the seniors who have watched this program rise from a 13-17 record to being amongst the best in the NEC.
“We’ve been playing together, playing for each other,” said senior forward Orlando Parker about the streak. “Diving for lose balls. It’s all about the team instead of the individual. So I think us playing as a team is helping us a lot.”
There is no tomorrow for Parker, Kenneth Ortiz, Latif Rivers, and Naofall Folahan. A loss now means the end of some great careers, even if they were a bit unheralded in the NEC’s postseason awards.
“I know some of my guys are upset about the selections, so I’ll just say this, the way we’ve played the last 10 to 12 games it goes hand in hand with the all-conference stuff,” Mason said. “We didn’t have a guy first or second team, but our team play is really, really good.”
While the lack of awards suggests that Wagner might not have great individual pieces, it couldn’t be further from the truth. There is probably more collective talent wearing the green and white than on any roster in the NEC right now. It’s just that they’ve bought into a team-first concept that hinders their individual statistics.
It’s also because for Wagner it all starts on the defensive end. The Seahawks played great team defense again on Wednesday night. They held CCSU to 21-62 (34%) shooting from the floor and forced 15 turnovers. The always dangerous Kyle Vinales had to deal with Ortiz or Dwaun Anderson along with a helping big man on almost every possession. Vinales scored 20 points, but it took him 15 shots.
“The focus was to make Kyle Vinales as much of a volume scorer as we can. We wanted him to take a lot of shots to score his points and tonight he scored 20 points and took 15 shots,” Mason said.
Wagner didn’t shoot particular well either. The Seahawks were just 27-76 (36%) from the field, but they grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, which led to 23 second-chance points. Parker scored 13 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, five offensive. Folahan grabbed 10 boards, scored six points and blocked three shots. Ortiz scored 21 points. Freshman Greg Senat also gave Wagner an unexpected boost with 10 points off the bench.
All of that might’ve been enough, but the Blue Devils were still hanging tough with 12:24 remaining in the game. A Vinales three cut the lead to five and CCSU looked to have some momentum, but Marcus Burton hit two threes – his only ones of the game – to quickly push the lead to 11, and the Seahawks cruised to victory.
This win puts Wagner in a familiar position. The Seahawks have now eliminated CCSU in the quarterfinals three times in a row. Of course after the last two times Wagner lost at home in the semifinals. Mason wants this time to be different and how his players have bought into the team concept gives him hope. Vinales thinks this time is different.
“The main core of the guys are all seniors so I feel like they’re hungry for it this year,” Vinales said. “Last year they knew they had another year. They obviously wanted to win but I feel like this year they want it more.”
When Wagner takes on Mount St. Mary’s at noon on Saturday, the Seahawks will be working together to change history.