EMMITSBURG — Dan Engelstad desperately wanted to provide some sort of resistance for Wagner’s offensive surge.
So the Mount St. Mary’s coach took a gamble and kept 6-foot-9 Malik Jefferson on the floor in Tuesday night’s Northeast Conference game at Knott Arena against the Seahawks even though the Mount junior forward had two fouls.
“We know what Malik brings for us on the defensive end,” Engelstad said. “The lead started to get away from us a little bit, and we knew to try and steady [the game], we wanted our [entire starting] back line in there.”
On this day, however, nothing could stop Wagner from scoring off penetration at will as it beat the Mountaineers 61-39 for its sixth straight victory.
The Mount entered Tuesday’s contest in second place in the Northeast Conference standings — a half-game behind first-place Merrimack, which isn’t eligible for NEC tournament competition because it is in Year Two of a five-year Division I transition phase.
Now the Mount (8-8 overall, 7-5 NEC) finds itself in fourth place, having been leapfrogged by idle Bryant (10-5, 6-4) and Wagner (7-5, 7-4), which held MSM leading scorer Damian Chong Qui scoreless in the first half. Chong Qui, who entered the contest averaging 15.7 points, didn’t score his first basket until driving the lane for a layup with 12 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game. He finished with three points and one assist.
For much of the game, Wagner sent help defenders toward Chong Qui whenever the junior guard looked to get into the lane.
“That’s always going to be the case,” Engelstad said. “Damian’s such a good player, and they’re just going to load up on him.
“We need guys to step up and confidently shoot shots ... I didn’t think our guys were ready to shoot them, and that was kind of the message [after the game].”
The option to drive and kick to open shooters worked well for Wagner, which shot 43.8 percent from beyond the arc (7-of-16) while the Mount went 3-of-19 on 3s (15.8 percent). But the Seahawks’ ability to attack the basket set up everything.
Jefferson picked up his second foul with 14:14 remaining in the first half and Wagner up by three.The Seahawks promptly scored their next five baskets on drives to the hoop, with the Seahawks’ top all-around threat, Alex Morales, leading the way. In the process, Morales also had chances to kick the ball out to open teammates as the 6-foot-6 senior guard finished with 15 points and six assists for a Seahawks team that led 33-24 at halftime.
Jefferson picked up his third foul with 9:47 left in the first half, helping Wagner attack the basket that much more. But not even Jefferson’s presence, combined with long-armed frontcourt mates Nana Opoku (6-9) and Mezie Offurum (6-8), could slow down the Seahawks in the second half.
Morales found Nigel Jackson for a wide-open 3 with 16:42 remaining that extended the lead to 40-25. MSM couldn’t cut its deficit under 12 points the rest of the game.
Jackson and Elijah Allen each finished with 11 points, hitting three and two 3-pointers respectively.
Offurum had 13 points and five rebounds while Opoku added 11 points and eight rebounds for an MSM team that had improved in leaps and bounds on the defensive end this year, especially during a three-game winning streak that ended Tuesday.
While drawing his third foul with less than 5 minutes remaining, Chong Qui grabbed his right hand while exiting the contest. Engelstad said he expects the junior to play Wednesday, when the Mount again faces Wagner at Knott Arena.
“They were the more aggressive team — nothing we haven’t seen before,” Offurum said. “We just have to make the adjustments.”