This was supposed to be the season. Wagner, which had won 46 games over the past two years and had reached two straight NEC Tournament semifinals, returned most of its core in 2013-14, showcasing a roster as deep as it was experienced. But on the way to the next step, the school’s second NCAA Tournament appearance — its first was in 2003 — came a step back. Selected by Northeast Conference coaches as the league’s overwhelming preseason favorite, the Seahawks unexpectedly stumbled, as second-year coach Bashir Mason struggled to cement a rotation, trying too hard to keep too many players happy. At 5-7 entering conference play, the players soon realized talent couldn’t carry them. “They know how talented they are and how good they are as a team,” said Mason, 30, the youngest Division I men’s coach in the country, “and I think to some degree they felt like there was a switch they could flip and just pull every game out without playing their best basketball. “Over the last couple of weeks, they’ve realized we have to play really well, and it can’t just be in spurts.” After a troubling home loss to eighth-place Central Connecticut State, the team held a players-only meeting, during which everybody talked about their goals. Egos and conflicting personalities had been an issue, senior point guard Kenneth Ortiz said, but getting everyone together reminded them that they were all there for the same reason. “Once we put all that aside, we can live up to the expectations,” Ortiz said. “We’d speak about playing team ball, but certain times, we would play individual ball. Since then, everybody’s trusting each other more. We had to keep pushing it and keep talking about it and getting it in people’s heads. Now, everyone’s bought in. Guys are focused again.” With wins in three of the past four games, the Seahawks are tied for third place in the conference and “getting back to their personality,” said Ortiz, by playing the league-best defense that has been the staple of the past two seasons, holding opponents to 39.9 percent shooting from the field. After playing 17 of their first 23 games away from home, the Seahawks were set up for a strong stretch run, with five of the final six regular season games at home, but in a season that has been tougher than expected, Mason was hit with more of the unexpected as he walked into practice on Monday. Starting guard Jay Harris, the team’s top 3-point shooter, was suspended for the rest of the season, for what the team is calling a “violation of school policy.” Harris, a junior transfer from Valparaiso, who had led the team in scoring over the past four games (14.5 points) and was second in assists, steals and minutes, had been a rare offensive spark for the defensive-minded squad.
Wagner Seahawks flying high again
New York Post | Feb 15