Wagner had been here before. The Seahawks were once again hosting the semifinals of the Northeast Conference tournament. In 2013 and 2014 the Seahawks did just that and lost.
The Seahawks had also played LIU Brooklyn twice this season. They lost twice.
That’s why down four points at halftime it would understandable if Wagner was worried about its future. Instead the Seahawks continued to play their trademark aggressive basketball, even picking up four fouls in the first 71 seconds of the second half, and eventually slogged through a victory.
Led by a big game from Michael Carey (28 points, 10 rebounds), the Seahawks pulled away late and finished off an 81-65 victory in front of a raucous crowd at the Spiro Sports Center.
Now Wagner will get the chance it couldn’t secure the last two times it hosted the semifinal. It will host the NEC championship at the Spiro Sports Center on Tuesday night.
The game between the No. 1 seed Seahawks and the No. 2 seed Fairleigh Dickinson Knights is remarkable because it is so benign. In a crazy season in the NEC (one in which home teams finished .500 in conference play) it was the league’s top two teams that emerged unscathed from the semifinals.
Wagner punched its ticket for the finals thanks to its aggressiveness. Sure sometimes that aggressiveness got the Seahawks in trouble, such as when Dwaun Anderson picked up his fourth foul on a personal/technical foul combination with 16:03 remaining in the game. Sometimes it also made the Seahawks unstoppable. Romone Saunders relentlessly attacked the rim and finished with 18 points, 16 in the second half, including 8-9 from the free throw line.
Attacking the rim was Wagner’s best offensive strategy. LIU struggled containing the basketball and the Seahawks shot 15-25 (60%) on two-point attempts in the second half. Mason played Carey at power forward for much of the game and he outplayed LIU’s All-NEC First Teamer Jerome Frink (14 points, 8 rebounds) on both ends of the floor.
LIU did prove once again though to be a tough matchup for the Seahawks. It was a four-point game with 8:39 remaining. Unlike most NEC teams, the Blackbirds have a strong front court in Frink, Nura Zanna (11 points, 7 rebounds in 24 minutes) and Glenn Feidanga (7 points, 3 rebounds in 12 minutes). All three players were a handful for the Seahawks the entire game.
But Wagner did shutdown LIU’s guards. Iverson Fleming, the hero of the quarterfinal game against Sacred Heart, failed to put up any points on 0-5 shooting. All-NEC First Team guard Martin Hermannssonwas hounded by Anderson, JoJo Cooper and others all game and scored just nine points along with four assists.
Wagner’s defense was relentless. The Seahawks didn’t cause many turnovers, but LIU shot just 33% in the second half. And after dominating the glass in the first half the Blackbirds didn’t impose their will there nearly enough in the second.
So the Seahawks move on. Wagner now has a chance to earn its ticket to the Big Dance on its home court. The third time was the charm.