Reactions to the NEC Title Game
The Bryant Bulldogs, the team I picked to win the league way back in November, are your 2022 NEC Champions! Obviously because of what happened in the stands combined with the lopsided score, the headlines aren't related to the game. However, let's hit some game reactions in bullet form:
Congrats to the Bryant coaching staff and players. This was a few years in the making, and it shows what kind of damage you can do if you utilize the Portal well at this level. In fact, Charles Pride was the only player who came to Bryant as a freshman that played significant minutes last night. Every other contributor began their college careers at a different institution (Wagner only has three such guys; DeLonnie Hunt, Ja'Mier Fletcher, and current freshman Zaire Williams).
My #1 key for Wagner was if they could make threes. Well, 3 for 21 was never going to get it done. Combine that with Hall Elisias' dominance inside (8 blocks and plenty of shot intimidations), and the Seahawks were simply shell shocked.
I thought Jared Grasso did a masterful job defensively, constantly switching up his defense (including going from zone to man halfway through a possession), and I'm just not sure Wagner was ready for it.
Peter Kiss was phenomenal; 34 points on 23 field goal attempts, including 4 of 5 from three, plus 3 assists and 5 steals. Any "see, I told you Kiss deserved the POY" arguments are completely invalid, as one game does not a season make, but Kiss did look like the league's best player last night.
You've got to feel for Alex Morales. 0 for 16 from the field, 3 of 5 from the free throw line, and 3 turnovers. To me, this was more about the Bryant defense than anything (get out of here with any "Alex Morales choked" comments), and it's a horrible way for an amazing career to end. Hopefully Wagner gets an opportunity to play post-season basketball somewhere.
Charles Pride did what Charles Pride does. 13 points and 17 rebounds. Bryant didn't need him to score last night, so he just did all the other stuff his team needed.
I really feel for Bashir Mason; the man is a great coach who has done a wonderful job at Wagner, even if he hasn't broken through yet. It'll happen.
If all you care about was the game, stop reading. But I have some thoughts on "everything else" below:
What we saw last night behind the Wagner bench was an embarrassment and a black mark on the Northeast Conference.
When it comes to behavior, I view everything from the lens of being a father (I have a 10 year old son). How would I feel if that were my kid? Well, let's start with something I tweeted out on Monday:
Students were buying tickets at the same time that Wagner's shoot-around ended and when the Seahawks players exited they were forcefully booed, with some "you suck"'s thrown in for good measure. The Wagner players, to a man, at least looked like they were enjoying it, laughing and taking selfies. If my kid were one of the Wagner players, I'd be pretty damn proud with the way they handled it. And if my son were one of those Bryant fans booing the opposing team they day before an NEC Title Game? I'd laugh, as long as he wasn't the guy who yelled "you smell like shit!" (that's garbage). There's a line, and in that short clip, only one person appeared to cross it.
However, yesterday afternoon I heard from numerous Mount St. Mary's fans, all of whom I respect and trust, who told me about the vulgar chants and physical harassment coming from the Bryant student section last Saturday night during the semifinal game (and I've since heard similar things regarding the quarterfinal win over CCSU). Fans chanting "F*** You" at players, cheering when injured opponents are laying on the ground, and screaming profanities at their Athletic Director.
Then, on Tuesday, this came out:
Look, I don't know when it became socially acceptable to scream at other people for apparently no reason, but it's gross. This isn't "fans having fun". This is pure anger being projected at another human being because they are a basketball player that happens to attend a different school. Think about that for a moment. Again, as a parent, I'd be appalled if my child behaved that way, and if my kid were on that Wagner basketball team I would have been scared for him. If a person is going to scream profanities in my face, I'd assume the next step was for that person to get physical. What in the world is even going on here? What's the point of this?
And then, of course, Tuesday night happened.
Was the physical confrontation started by the Wagner section? Maybe! But based on the evidence, I have a hard time believing that they weren't, at the very least, provoked by the Bulldogs student section that chanted profanity after profanity all night long. Clearly at least a few of the Wagner students/fans are partly to blame. How much? I don't know the answer to that question. (Note: The reason Will Martinez got as worked up as he did was because his mom was somewhere in or near that scrum. Quite frankly, I don't blame him)
My questions; Why, after what multiple people witnessed the Bryant student section's poor behavior last Wednesday and Saturday, followed by the confrontation earlier on Tuesday, didn't Bryant University do more? Why did they allow the Bryant student section to be that close to the Wagner family section? Where was Athletic Director Bill Smith prior to all hell breaking loose? Why did Bryant security allow students to bring in and/or buy alcohol? Where was the police presence? Why did it take more than two games of this behavior before someone other than the PA announcer (Grasso during the first media timeout) grabbed a microphone and ask the student section to stop chanting profanities?
A thing I keep coming back to in my head; is this a *Bryant* problem, or is this a *college kids in 2022* problem? I'm never a fan of blaming the whole because of the actions of a few, and there were surely plenty of Bryant students/fans who were there to just enjoy a good basketball game. However, there were clearly more than a handful kids chanting vulgar phrases at opposing players given that you could hear it on national television. I was a college student once too, and I did dumb things. But during the 2002 and 2007 NEC Championship Games at Detrick Gym, the most vulgar it got was yelling "bullshit" at the refs due to bad calls (because, of course). Never did it occur to me to chant "pu**y" at an injured playing laying face-down on the floor. Would the scene have been similar at Wagner, or Long Island, or Mount St. Mary's? I obviously can't answer that.
Ultimately, as I said at the beginning of this diatribe, this was an embarrassment. The NEC is full of good people, and for this disturbing night to be the lead on SportsCenter is not deserved. I don't fault the conference here, this is all on Bryant's leadership. This afternoon, the NEC released the below statement:
While that's a nice start, as Mount blogger Ryan Raffensberger notes, the investigation absolutely must include the events of the previous two games.
So what's next? Quite frankly, nothing. Bryant University has one foot out the door, with the worst kept secret in sports being that BU will be part of the America East beginning next season (football will go to Big South). Ultimately, the NEC will have no ability to levy any sort of punishment.
After a few years of blogging about the NEC, I've gotten to know people from every fan base, and there are some Bryant fans/alums that are among my favorite people to interact with. I've spoken to a few this morning, and there's a clear conflict there; they're obviously thrilled their team won, but they're embarrassed by what they saw from their alma mater.
If this is what's going to happen during on-campus conference tournament games going forward, the NEC needs to find a neutral site to hold this event. The league and its schools need to guarantee that nothing like this ever happens again.