Wagner Grinds Out Victory Over Mount St. Mary’s

It may not have been soothing to watch or aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but Wagner ground out a much-needed victory in Emmitsberg, Maryland over Mount St. Mary’s on a brutally cold Thursday night. Wagner never held the lead in the first 37 minutes of the contest, but their stifling defensive attack and “never say quit” attitude made their head coach Bashir Mason quite proud.

“Unbelievable effort from these guys,” said Mason. “There were several times when we were down six, eight points on the road, and most teams would just pack it in. These guys dug in and they continued to fight for 40 minutes.”

It was the defense that kept Wagner in the game when the outside shots weren’t falling. The Seahawks held the Mount to 0.86 points per possession in the contest, after unexpectedly giving up 1.08 points per possession in their past four games – three of them defeats. Tonight, it was the reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz who once again had the game’s biggest play.

With the teams tied at 50 with less than one minute remaining in the second half, Ortiz intercepted a perimeter pass by Rashad Whack and took it uncontested down the floor for a layup. It was the intuition of Ortiz and his head coach that essentially made the play happen.

“That steal was there for him three or four times throughout the game,” said Mason. “When Orlando Parker was shooting free throws, I came to [Ortiz] and said ‘you have to shoot that gap.’ At the end right there, he made that play, and that’s typical Kenny Ortiz stuff.”

The Mount had a decent look at the buzzer to tie it, but a double teamed Kristijan Krajina misfired on a difficult six footer.

Jonathan Williams only registered eight points in the victory, but it was the senior’s two buckets in the paint late that inevitably put Wagner in a position to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. In fact, Wagner was dominant inside the paint scoring 38 points near the rim while grabbing 13 offensive rebounds. They also outrebounded the Mount 37 to 24.

For Mount St. Mary’s, this marks their fifth loss in seven NEC games. The home game was there for the taking, as the Mount had several opportunities to extend their lead to double digits. But the Wagner defense stiffened and the Mount went ice-cold. Jamion Christian’s group went nearly eight minutes in the second half without making a field goal, which obviously helped spark Wagner’s comeback late.

“We just didn’t make plays down the stretch,” said a disappointed Christian. “I’m really saddened for my team. We were pretty good in those situations all year and we just didn’t execute well.”

Bashir Mason implemented a zone defense which gave the Mount trouble throughout the evening. The Mount only shot 30.4% (7-23) from behind the arc and 39.6% from the floor, consistently settling for tough contested outside jumpers.

“We just didn’t rotate the ball side to side,” said Christian when asked about Wagner’s defensive effort. “Their zone did a very good job on us. We were prepared for it but we didn’t execute our plan offensively. It’s a pretty good zone, it’s not even a great zone, but we just didn’t execute.”

Nine players scored for the Mount, but only junior Sam Prescott reached double figures with ten points. Eric Fanning and Orlando Parker each had a game high 12 points for Wagner. It was the freshman Fanning’s third straight game with at least 20 minutes played and 12 points scored.

“Eric Fanning is just a guy who can make a shot from the perimeter,” said Mason. “He’s not afraid to make big plays. He brings a lot of energy to our team. I think he’s really just starting to get comfortable with the pace of college, the size, the speed, and all of that stuff.”

The win snaps Wagner’s first three game losing streak in nearly two seasons and pushes them back above 0.500 in the conference at 4-3 with a road showdown versus St. Francis (PA) coming up. The Mount falls to 10th place in the league at 2-5 and must travel to Moon Township on Saturday to take on the 5-2 Robert Morris Colonials.

Winning ugly the only way Wagner is winning these days

It sure wasn’t pretty. When you score 0.71 points per possession, shoot 36% from the floor, and have an assist to turnover ratio of 0.3, you won’t win a majority of your games. But Wagner, despite trailing for most of their home opener versus the Princeton Tigers, used their pressure defense and timely offense to stage a much-needed comeback victory. The Seahawks edged the Tigers for a gritty 48-42 overtime win to earn its second victory of the season. Here are my observations from the sloppy contest:

  1. Defending with Tenacity – First let’s talk about the good. Wagner’s defense forced 17 Tiger turnovers and held Ian Hummer – Princeton’s most efficient big man – to 11 points on 20 shots. As a whole, Wagner did an excellent job containing Princeton’s skilled frontcourt, as the Tigers shot 25% (11 of 44) from inside the arc. Mario Moody gave Bashir Mason instant defense off the bench, swatting away three shots in 13 minutes. So far, the Seahawks defense is performing at a higher rate compared to last season, with an adjusted defense rating in Ken Pomeroy’s top 50.
  2. Offensive Woes – The offense, however, continues to lack any kind of cohesive flow. The team clearly misses Latif Rivers, who has now missed the past three games with a knee injury. Without Rivers and his ability to create off the dribble, spot up from long-range, or facilitate for other teammates, Wagner doesn’t have enough playmakers that can create their own shot. Jonathan Williams is certainly doing his part by averaging nearly 18 points and eight rebounds, but contributions are desperately needed elsewhere. I’m looking at you, Kenneth Ortiz and Marcus Burton.
  3. Long Range Shooter Please Apply – Part of the Wagner’s problem offensively stems from their inability to stretch the defense with their long-range shooting. Currently, Wagner is hitting less than 28% of their three-point attempts, which simply won’t cut it. The problem is exacerbated without Rivers, as only Eric Fanning and Burton have shown the capability to make shots from behind the arc. Right now Wagner really misses Tyler Murray and Chris Martin.
  4. Whose the Impact Freshman? – Speaking of Fanning, it was he and not the highly touted Dwaun Anderson, who received the crunch time minutes late in tonight’s game. Mason’s trust in Fanning paid off with the freshman sinking a critical three-ball late in regulation. Anderson has struggled mightily out of the gate, scoring 17 points on 30 shots to go along with 14 turnovers. We were wrong in assuming any freshman, even one as gifted as Anderson, could come in and contribute right away at a high level. Clearly, Anderson’s adjustment to collegiate basketball will take a little time, so Mason’s challenge is to find production elsewhere while his prized rookie figures it out.

Tonight was a fantastic win for Wagner, because let’s face it, when you fail to score 50 points in a game that went to overtime, nine times out of ten you will lose. Especially to an Ivy League contender in Princeton. The Seahawks’ defense isn’t the problem, but Mason has a difficult challenge ahead of figuring out his team’s offensive issues. It’ll be interesting to see how the youngest head coach in college basketball adjusts.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

Top 10 Recruits of the Northeast Conference – The rich get richer

With many of the top NEC programs returning most of their talent, playing time will be scarce for a majority of the recruits coming in.  Nevertheless, we here at Big Apple Buckets painstakingly created our consensus list of the top 10 NEC recruits.  Ranking them wasn’t easy – information on most newcomers is limited at best and there are easily 20 players that could have an immediate impact on their team.

We apologize in advance if your favorite recruit missed the list.  This is the time of year when every fan-base believes their newcomers will push their team to great heights.  Just remember, all of those Youtube clips of your favorite team’s recruits are highlight videos.  Everyone looks good on those.  They edit out the bad plays for a reason.

(Cut to the confused Monmouth fan asking, “Wait, you mean to tell me Tyrone O’Garro won’t finish every play this year with an alley-oop jam??”)

Later this week, we’ll submit our NEC recruiting class rankings for all 12 teams.  For now though, we give you our 2012-13 Top 10 preseason newcomers of the NEC!

10) Ronnie Drinnon, PF, St. Francis (PA) – With Scott Eatherton heading to Northeastern, Drinnon will see significant minutes in a brutally thin Red Flash frontcourt.  There will be struggles early on, but Drinnon’s high basketball IQ and nose for the basketball should serve him well in his freshman season.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that Drinnon practiced with the team a semester early.

9) James Ford, SG, Quinnipiac – Ford does one thing that none of Quinnipiac’s other newcomers can do as well – shoot lights out from beyond the arc.  With the Bobcats’ need for a shooter to stretch the defense, Ford should occupy a niche role as he improves in other facets during his rookie season.

8) Eric Fanning, SG, Wagner – We have difficulty placing Fanning any higher on this list, due to Bashir Mason’s crowded backcourt.  Nevertheless, Fanning should have the opportunity in limited minutes to display a wide array of scoring abilities, which allowed him to score over 1,000 points at two different stops in high school.  His athleticism and length at 6-foot-4 should also help on the defensive end.

7) Tariq Carey, SG, Quinnipiac – Tom Moore made it a priority in the offseason to bolster his backcourt, and Carey may have been his best acquistion.  The moderately recruited combo guard has a chance to make up part of James Johnson’s production on both ends of the floor, given his ability to attack the basket, get to the charity stripe, and defend with tenacity.

6) Matthew Hunter, F, Central Connecticut – After two very productive seasons at junior college, Hunter persevered to earn a Division I scholarship after a difficult upbringing.  The “stat filler” – as Howie Dickenman likes to call him – should help Kyle Vinales make up 56% of the scoring CCSU lost due to last year’s graduating class.  After all, Hunter was offered by three DI schools for a reason.

5) Shivaughn Wiggins, PG, Mount St. Mary’s – Wiggins is the type of player Jamion Christian covets – a celebral athlete that makes excellent decisions with the basketball in transition and the half-court set.  This season, he’ll most likely share time with Josh Castellanos, but make no mistake, Wiggins is the player with more potential.

4) Vaughn Morgan, PF, Robert Morris – An athletic freak who reeks havoc in the paint, Morgan will contribute to a deep Robert Morris team that returns their top seven players in terms of efficiency.  Morgan should see the majority of Lawrence Bridge’s minutes if he can grasp the mental aspect of the game and let his athleticism shine.

3) D.J. Griggs, SG, LIU-Brooklyn – The Blackbirds lost a potential NEC star in Waller-Prince, but Griggs is certainly a nice consolation prize.  LIU has a thin bench, so the opportunity is there for the Texas native to grab the final spot of LIU’s backcourt rotation with Jason Brickman, C.J. Garner, and Brandon Thompson.  As a high schooler Griggs was a high-scorer, averaging 22.6 points per game and scoring 2,590 points, so he should provide a spark off the bench for the Blackbirds.

2) Karvel Anderson, SG, Robert Morris – A prolific, yet efficient scorer at every level he’s played at, Anderson should serve as a nice offensive weapon off Andy Toole’s bench.  His insertion into the Colonial’s rotation will take pressure off of Coron Williams – who struggles at times creating his own shot – and will give Robert Morris the reliable deep threat they dearly missed last season.

1) Dwaun Anderson, SG, Wagner – This was the easiest pick by far.  It’s not very often when Tom Izzo has recruited and signed a future NEC player.  Anderson’s athleticism will make him an impact player immediately, especially when he’s allowed to create in transition or off the dribble in half-court sets.  We’d be shocked if he wasn’t a finalist for NEC Rookie of the Year at season’s end.

Other newcomers we considered:
E.J. Reed, G, LIU-Brooklyn
De’Aires Tate, PF, Sacred Heart
Jalen Wesson Palm, PG, Monmouth
Aleksandar Isailovic, G, St. Francis (NY)
Sekou Harris, PG, Fairleigh Dickinson

Wagner reloads with three talented newcomers

Wagner Seahawks — 25-6 (15-3 NEC) lost to Robert Morris in NEC semifinals

Players Lost:
Tyler Murray (30.7 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 2.1 APG, 79.5% FT%, 49.0% 3PT%)
Chris Martin (20.9 MPG, 7.1 PPG, 82.3% FT%, 31.0% 3PT%)
Ryan Schrotenboer (12 GP, 2.6 MPG, 0.3 PPG, 0.4 RPG)

Incoming Players:
Jay Harris, 6’2″ PG — Aurora, IL
Dwaun Anderson, 6’3″ G — Suttons Bay, MI
Eric Fanning, 6’4″ G/F — Trenton, NJ

Wagner had it’s most successful season ever last season and first 20-win season since 2007-08, but it ended in disappointing fashion when the Seahawks failed to get invited to the NIT. Head coach Dan Hurley is off to Rhode Island, but Bashir Mason takes over and brings back almost the entire core of last season’s team.

“That was something that was appealing about this job,” Mason said. “I had the luxury of knowing that we return 10 out of our 13 scholarship players. And even after the first year we’ll only lose two players. That gives me good confidence in knowing that I don’t have to go out and rush and find impact players. We need to find the right players. Guys that will fit well with our system.”

While transfer Jay Harris isn’t going to make an impact for another season, the former Valparaiso point guard has found a home with the Seahawks. He needs to work on his strength, but during summer workouts Mason has been impressed by Harris’ shooting ability. In 2013-14 Harris should slide right into what will be a very crowded guard rotation.

Wagner though needs shooters now to help replace the dynamic shooting of the departed Tyler Murray, who shot an insane 49.0% from beyond the arc last season. Two newcomers, Dwaun Anderson and Eric Fanning, will get the chance to fill that void. Anderson has been practicing with the team since January, so he knows the lay of the land.

“He’s used to our style of play. He’s used to the tempo,” Mason said about the former Michigan Mr. Basketball. “He knows the drills and he knows the physicality of the college game. It’ll be smooth for him to go from being a practice player to playing in the games.”

The one true newcomer on the roster is Fanning, who is a “gifted scorer” according to Mason. Fanning scored 1,000 points at two schools, including 1,163 points in just two seasons at Perkiomen in Pennsylvania. He was also named the MVP of the 2012 Mary Kline Classic.

The additions are going to have to fight for playing time. They’ll be competing not only with each other, but all the talented returnees. That’s why even though the Seahawks have one scholarship remaining it’s unlikely the spot will be filled.

It’s going to get even harder to crack the rotation if players continue to improve over the summer. Mason is taking advantage of the NCAA’s new rules allowing teams to work together during the summer and has players practicing on Monday and Tuesday. One of the players that has impressed since returning to campus is point guard Marcus Burton.

“He came back with about eight pounds of muscle added to his body,” Mason said. “I think he’s looking to have a breakout sophomore season.”

If Burton does improve on his solid freshman season, during which he averaged 3.5 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.6 steals per game in just 12.6 minutes, it should make Wagner even more difficult to play against.

All of it adds up to once making Wagner one of the top contenders in a loaded NEC and a force in the conference for seasons to come.

Hurley building something at Wagner

Besides a one-year blip during the 2007-08 season Wagner hasn’t had a record above .500 in Northeast Conference since 2004-05 season. The Seahawks have had just two winning seasons since 2002-03. But Dan Hurley is doing his best to change all that.

The commitment of 2012 forward Eric Fanning to Wagner on Monday continues a strong uptick in recruiting. (Highlight videos are here and here.)

Continue reading “Hurley building something at Wagner”