Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Wagner coach Dan Hurley set up games this year against Big East foes UConn and Pitt in order to prepare his rising team for the Northeast Conference schedule and potential postseason battles to come.
Earlier this season, he wasn’t openly admitting his Seahawks could pull off either upset.
“We’re not delusional,” Hurley told SNY.tv before his team lost the UConn game. “We’re in Year 2 of rebuilding of what was when we took over one of the five to seven worst teams in the country out of the three hundred and fifty whatever.”
That rebuilding process appears to be well under way.
Behind 18 second-half points from sophomore guard Latif Rivers, the Seahawks stunned No. 15 Pitt, 59-54, Friday night in Pittsburgh.
“This is a win of high caliber, it’s huge for us,” Hurley said of his team’s win over the defending Big East regular season champs that follows victories at Princeton and at Penn.
Wagner (8-3) lost the UConn game 78-66, but fought hard throughout and never gave up.
Hurley said that game prepared his team for facing the Panthers, who continue to play without redshirt junior point guard Tray Woodall, who played for Bob Hurley at St. Anthony.
“That gave us confidence,” Hurley said of the UConn game. “We were only down eight points with under eight [minutes] to go. We didn’t play as well there, as here. Knowing the caliber of their program and how we did, we knew if our guys stepped up, we’d have a chance to win.”
Wagner forced 18 Pitt turnovers, and Panthers head coach Jamie Dixon gave credit where it was due.
“I give credit to Wagner, they played well and they executed well and they have good and experienced players,” Dixon said.
“We obviously didn’t play well. I can’t point to anything that we did well in the game, offensively we didn’t shoot well and it was a high amount of turnovers for us. It’s disappointing; I thought we were ready to go. We definitely took a step back and it was hard to watch.”
The Wagner players are clearly buying into what Dan and his brother Bobby are teaching. And it’s paying off.
Rivers and the Wagner players who committed to play for the Hurleys knew they could be part of something special at the small Staten Island school that went 5-26 in the year before the Hurleys arrived.
“This is big for us as individuals and as a team,” Rivers said. “When you play a top ranked team and can come into their home court and come out with the win, that’s big.”
Wagner has a strong foundation going forward, too.
They have former Michigan State guard Dwaun Anderson — the 2010-2011 Mr. Basketball in Michigan — coming in for 2012.
Wagner also added 6-8 forward Mike Aaman, 6-5 guard Eric Fanning and 6-3 guard Kameron Mitchell for next year.
At this point, Hurley is way ahead of schedule in his rebuilding plan.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.