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Mar 18, 2024 4:17 pm

Howard, Wagner have battled their way into NCAA Tournament’s First Four

"marcus dockery"

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.

Howard beat sixth-seeded Delaware State to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament and was seeded 67th for the NCAA Tournament. 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.

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.”

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

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.

“It definitely feels unreal,” Allen said. “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.”

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.

Winners of seven of eight, the Howard Bison are also 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.

“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.”

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.

–Field Level Media

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