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Mar 19, 2024 12:44 pm

First Four: Howard-Wagner Preview & Props

tahron allen

The NCAA Tournament officially begins Tuesday night with the First Four opener in Dayton, Ohio, where a pair No. 16 seeds square off for the right to meet West Regional top seed North Carolina.

The Wagner Seahawks (16-15) battle the Howard Bison (18-16) in a matchup of the lowest two seeds in the field of 68.

THE LINES
Howard is a consensus 3.5-point favorite, entering the NCAA Tournament as the 67th seed after knocking off Delaware State to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

Meanwhile, Wagner, seeded 68th, entered the eight-team Northeast Conference field as the sixth seed and earned its way into the NCAA brackets by beating second-seeded Merrimack in the final.

The Bison have won seven of their past eight games and have been backed by 64 percent of the spread-line money at BetMGM. Their -175 moneyline also has drawn 61 percent of the money, while Wagner’s +145 ML has been backed by 52 percent of the total bets.

The Over/Under at the book has shifted from 127.5 to 128.5, with the Over garnering 62 percent of the money.

THE HISTORY
This is just the second all-time meeting between the schools, with Wagner earning a 79-54 win in the 1997-98 season.

THE NEWS
Second-year coach Donald Copeland guided Wagner to a 7-9 finish in league play. The Seahawks had to win three straight on the road against the top three seeds in the conference to clinch their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2003, when they lost to Pitt in their lone all-time appearance.

“This was always the expectation,” Copeland said of reaching the NCAA Tournament. “Those (league) games prepared for us what we faced, these adverse situations. We had been through them, and we handled them better.”

Guard Tahron Allen led the Seahawks to the stunning conference run, playing all 40 minutes while scoring a game-high 22 points and adding seven rebounds in the title game. Allen is averaging 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds this season.

The Seahawks, who had just seven healthy players for the NEC final, are led by junior guard Melvin Council Jr., who averaged 14.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists to earn All-NEC first-team honors.

Council also played all 40 minutes in the tournament final and finished with 12 points and four rebounds.

The Bison also are making a run at a Cinderella story. They upset No. 1-seed Norfolk State in the MEAC semifinals before taking down Delaware State 70-67 in the finals, led by guard Jordan Hairston’s 18 points.

Howard is led by Bryce Harris, their all-MEAC first-team selection. The junior guard leads Howard in scoring (16.6) and rebounding (7.6) this season. Harris and Seth Towns added 16 apiece for the Bison in the title game win.

“We really shot the 3-point basket well in the first half, but they made adjustments at the half,” Howard head coach Kenneth Blakeney said. “This allowed Bryce more room inside and that proved to be very effective for us down the stretch.

Marcus Dockery, a junior guard, was an All-MEAC second-team selection, shooting an impressive 41.2 percent from 3-point range and knocking down a team-leading 93 triples this season.

THEY SAID IT
–“It definitely feels unreal. I’m still processing this. The love I’m getting from my school, the family, the people I’ve known since I was young, it’s definitely unreal.” –Allen

–“In all of my years of coaching and being around basketball, I have not seen a season like this. We used 13 different lineups due to injuries and COVID.” –Blakeney

–Field Level Media

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