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NCAA Tournament Game Preview - #16 Howard vs. #16 Wagner

Game 35 - Howard (18-16) vs. Wagner (16-15)


Nuts & Bolts 

  • Date: March 19, 2024

  • Time: 6:40 p.m. ET 

  • Venue: UD Arena - Dayton, OH

  • How to Watch: TruTV

  • Matchup History: Wagner leads all-time series 1-0

  • Last Meeting: Wagner def. Howard 79-54 on 12/17/97

  • Betting Lines: Via DraftKings

  • Spread: Howard -3.5

  • Over/Under: 128.5

  • Prediction: Howard 65, Wagner 61

  • Follow Along on Twitter 

  • Zach Penrice - DMV Sports: https://twitter.com/Zach_DMVSports 

 

  • Head Coach: Kenny Blakeney (5th season, 61-75 record at Howard) 

  • Record: 18-16 (9-5, 4th in MEAC)

  • Last Time Out: Won vs. Delaware State 70-67 on 3/16/24 (MEAC Tournament Final)

  • Player to Watch: Bryce Harris


For the first time in school history, Howard will appear in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. 


This season was far from what many expected from the Bison. Head Coach Kenny Blakeney welcomed back several players from what was widely-considered to be the best team in program history, while adding depth in the transfer portal, to try and improve upon last year’s MEAC regular season and tournament championship. 


Instead, Howard struggled all season long. 


After a February 3 loss to Hampton, the Bison were 9-14 and just 3-3 in the conference. With just over a month until the conference tournament, it was time to get things into gear before it was too late. 


Blakeney’s team responded, winning seven of its last nine games going into the conference tournament, by far its best stretch of the season. 


In the quarterfinals, Howard took down Morgan State by 13 after splitting the season series, thanks in large-part to 28 points from Bryce Harris to go along with his 9 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 3 blocks. 


In the semifinals, the Bison faced its toughest test in Norfolk State. Winners of the MEAC regular season crown, the Spartans beat HU twice during the regular season, including on the final day of the regular season in a 77-58 thrashing. 


The semifinal was much different, with Howard coming out on top 80-74, thanks to the Bison outscoring the Spartans 49-37 in the second half, including a 21 point burst in the final 4:17 of the game to take the lead for good. 


In the final, Howard had to do something that is always challenging: Beat a team in Delaware State for the third time. 


Behind a team-high 18 points from the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Jordan Hairston, the Bison were able to pull off the win and hold on for a 70-67 victory. 

Howard won its second consecutive MEAC Tournament on Saturday (Photo: ESPN)


The three wins in three days has salvaged a once tumultuous season for Howard. On Selection Sunday, Howard was selected as a #16 seed and sent to the First Four in Dayton, OH, where they’ll take on the Wagner Seahawks. 


The winner of the game takes on #1 seed North Carolina in Charlotte, NC on Thursday. Tuesday night in Dayton is a chance for Howard to grab its first ever NCAA Tournament win. 


The Bison had to wait 31 years between NCAA Tournament appearances last time. Now, they only had to wait the standard 12 months. 


Coach Blakeney has now doubled the school’s total tournament appearances in just two years, turning around a program that was 4-29 the year he took over in 2019-20. 


What an opportunity on Tuesday night for HU to make history. 

 

  • Head Coach: Donald Copeland (2nd season, 31-28 record at Wagner)

  • Record: 16-15 (7-9, 6th in NEC)

  • Last Time Out: Won @ Merrimack 54-47 on 3/12/24 (NEC Tournament Final)

  • Player to Watch: Melvin Council Jr. 


For the first time since 2003, Wagner is in the NCAA Tournament. 


In just his second season, Head Coach Donald Copeland led his Seahawks back to the Big Dance, doing so by winning three consecutive road games after finishing 6th in the NEC. 


Not only did Wagner have to win on the road, but they essentially had only seven healthy players along the way, with the team decimated by injuries late in the season. 


The Seahawks first went on the road to Sacred Heart for the quarterfinals, taking the lead with under a minute to go on a Tahron Allen jumper and holding on for a 60-57 victory. Allen led the way with 22 points in the win. 


In the semifinals, Wagner faced the top seed Central Connecticut, a team that had two wins over the Seahawks by a combined two points in the regular season. 


When it mattered most, Wagner stood tall, taking down NEC regular season champs 66-56 behind 20 points from Julian Brown. 


Then came the final as Coach Copeland led his guys against the two-seed Merrimack, a team the Seahawks split with during the regular season, with both teams winning on the road. 


Well, on Tuesday night in North Andover, MA, history repeated itself as the kids from Staten Island took down the Warriors 54-47 behind another 22 points from Tahron Allen. 

Wagner celebrates winning its conference first tournament title since 2003 (Photo: CBS Sports)


Across the three wins, Wagner didn’t score more than 66 points, including just 54 in the NEC Final, while never allowing its opponent to score more than 57. 


The Seahawks currently rank 6th in NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 62.1 PPG. 


Wagner likes to slow the game down due to its lack of depth while Howard looks to speed things up due to its deep rotation, often playing 10-12 guys per game. 


If shots are falling for Howard, and the Bison continue to run and rely on staying fresh with the rotation, it’ll be very challenging for Wagner to stay consistent defensively. 


If the Seahawks can slow down Howard early and get a lead and control of the game, then they might very well be on the way toward a first ever NCAA Tournament win in just the second appearance in program history.

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