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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.