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College Basketball

Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball wilts against surging Wagner, 61-39, ending three-game winning streak

Emmitsburg — Dan Engelstad can appreciate good defense when he sees it. He and the coaching staff have constructed the Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team into the stingiest defensive unit in the Northeast Conference this season.

The Mountaineers got a taste of what they had done to so many opponents as visiting Wagner suffocated their shooters and tied up their passers to cruise to a surprisingly easy 61-39 victory Tuesday night at Knott Arena. The teams will meet in the second of a two-game series Wednesday at 4 p.m.

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“You’ve got to credit them,” Engelstad said. “They play extremely scrappy, extremely tough. They got a bunch of fouls, and our guys, I think, were taken aback by how much they pressured us. We have to be able to handle that. When they pressure like that, there are opportunities to be had. We’ve got to make plays and finish around the basket and make open shots. We’ll have those looks and hopefully we can knock some down tomorrow.”

The aftermath was not pretty. Mount St. Mary’s was held to its lowest output since Dec. 29, 2014, when that squad lost at Old Dominion, 69-35. It was the program’s worst setback since Feb. 23, 2019, when that team lost to Bryant, 81-58.

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The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Mountaineers (8-8, 7-5) and dropped them one full game behind Merrimack (8-4 overall and in the league) in the race for the regular-season championship. The Seahawks (7-5, 7-4) collected their conference-high sixth victory in row and overtook Mount St. Mary’s for second place.

“They were the more aggressive team,” Mountaineers junior small forward Mezie Offurum said. “Nothing that we haven’t seen before. We’ve just got to be ready to make the adjustments for tomorrow’s game.”

The second half proved to be the turning point for both teams. Wagner opened with a 9-1 spurt to turn a 33-24 lead into a 42-25 advantage just 3:11 into the period. After junior point guard Damian Chong Qui made a driving layup to trim the deficit to 44-32 with 12:41 remaining, the Mountaineers missed their next six shots, committed three turnovers and went 5:59 without a point before redshirt junior power forward Nana Opoku dropped in a hook shot with 6:42 left.

Mount St. Mary’s converted just 19.2% (5-for-26) of its shots in the second half and its 15 points in the frame marked the offense’s lowest production for a 20-minute period this winter.

Wagner’s strategy of assigning 6-foot-6 senior shooting guard Alex Morales to mark the 5-8 Chong Qui proved fruitful as the Baltimore resident and McDonogh finished with just three points on 1-for-6 shooting, one assist, one rebound and two turnovers.

Engelstad said he wasn’t surprised by the Seahawks’ tactic of trying to make life difficult for Chong Qui, who entered the game as the Mountaineers’ leading playmaker at 15.7 points and 5.4 assists per game.

“That’s always going to be the case,” he said. “Damian’s such a good player, and they’re just going to load up on him, and we need guys to step up and confidently shoot shots. I thought we had a couple of good shots in the first half. I didn’t think our guys were ready to shoot, and that was kind of the message, that we’ve got to be more shot-prepared. We know that we have guys that can make shots, and we need them to do that for us to compete and be the team that we know we’re capable of being to beat a team like Wagner.”

Besides Offurum’s team-high 13 points, five rebounds and two assists and Opoku’s 11 points and eight rebounds, Chong Qui didn’t get much help. Starting shooting guard Josh Reaves did not score a point on 0-for-6 shooting, and starting power forward Malik Jefferson had only two points and three rebounds in 17:51 of playing time as he was saddled with four personal fouls.

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Engelstad acknowledged that lack of support, but also pointed out that Chong Qui’s teammates rely on him.

“We’re really good when Damian is getting everybody else involved, and I think he tried to do that tonight,” Engelstad said. “It’s hard to get momentum, and it’s hard to get rhythm, and it’s hard to get energy when the shots aren’t going. I think he did generate some good shots for guys, but we need him to kind of be a dual threat. He’s got to score, and he’s got to be a guy that’s facilitating for others.”

Wagner was led by Morales, who totaled 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Freshman point guard Elijah Allen chipped in 11 points and four rebounds, and senior forward Nigel Jackson, a Baltimore resident and Mount Saint Joseph graduate, came off the bench to contribute 11 points, seven rebounds and two steals.

Offurum said the onus is on the players to try to earn the split with the Seahawks on Wednesday.

“We’ve just got to be the aggressors,” he said. “We know how they play. They’re tough. They’re very active. So just make the adjustments and just come out with the same intensity and just come out with the same aggression and execute our plays.”

Chong Qui left the game with 4:41 remaining because of an injury and did not return. Afterward, Engelstad said the point guard was dealing with a hand contusion.

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“I didn’t get anything from him yet that he wouldn’t be available tomorrow,” he said. “He’s as tough as they come. I imagine he’ll treat himself and try to give it a go tomorrow.”

WAGNER@MOUNT ST. MARY’S

Wednesday, 4 p.m.


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