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.