Freshman Wayne Martin may be a newcomer to St. Francis Brooklyn’s basketball rivalry with Wagner, but based on his clutch performance in Saturday night’s thrilling 73-72 overtime win against the Seahawks, it looks like he’s grown quite comfortable in the spotlight.
The home grown 6-6 freshman (South Shore) hit a leaner with 24 seconds left to give St. Francis the lead, and then made two blocks in the game’s closing moments that prevented visiting Wagner from escaping the Pope Center with a win. With 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting, nine rebounds and seven blocks—including five in the extra period—Martin denied both Kenny Ortiz and Mario Moody with seconds remaining to lead the Terrier’s to a huge win in what St. Francis Head Coach Glenn Braica described as a “war.”
For Martin, who has slowly gained the Braica’s confidence, his winning bucket over Wagner’s Orlando Parker was a blend of instinct and desire.
“Go right. That’s what I know best. Always go right,” said the soft-spoken giant. “Definitely, I was gonna score that basket.”
“He’s a tremendously talented kid,” said Braica, who’s shown great patience with Martin’s development. “He’s learning. We talk to him everyday about focusing. Today, the talent and the effort were the same, and that’s the result.”
Jalen Cannon, the Terrier’s junior forward, led St. Francis with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while sophomore Anthony White chipped in 11 points, seven rebounds and strong second-half defense.
The Seahawks were led by senior guard Ortiz, who scored 19 points and pulled down six rebounds. Junior Jay Harris came off the bench to contribute six rebounds and 18 points, but hit only 5 of his 17 attempts. Wagner shot a paltry 32% as a team, including just 3 of 13 (23%) from behind the three-point arc.
St. Francis was not much better, shooting 37% overall and missing 18 of 20 three-point tries. Senior sharpshooter Ben Mockford was an abysmal 1 for 11, including 1 of 9 in three-pointers. According to Braica, Wagner did a good job keeping his best scorers down.
“Give them credit. They mixed it up, they played a little zone, they did a good job taking him [Cannon] and Mockford out of the game early”
“I knew it was going to be a war,” continued Braica of the contest between evenly matched rivals. “We like to think of ourselves as being tough. They’re the same way. They’re a tough bunch.”
St. Francis opened the game with an 11-4 run that grew to a 16-8 lead five minutes in, leading the Terrier faithful to dream of an easy win over the NEC preseason favorite. Those fanciful thoughts were dashed as the Seahawks went on a 21-7 run over the next ten minutes to seize a six-point lead.
With St. Francis missing three-point shots in bunches, Wagner led 36-28 at intermission.
In the second half, the Terriers turned the tables on their Staten Island foes with a 14-4 run, taking a 2-point lead. After Wagner tied the score at 42-all, St. Francis went on a 12-2 run to lead by 10 with eight minutes left in the game.
But the Seahawks were not done yet, clawing all the way back to lead 62-61 with less than two minutes to play. Clutch free throw shooting down the stretch by both teams left the score knotted at 66-all when the second-half buzzer sounded.
Overtime was a back-and-forth affair: neither team could grab a lead of more than two points. According to Wagner Head Coach Bashir Mason, at the game’s pivotal moment St. Francis simply had more desire then his squad.
“It was a toughness game, that’s what it came down to, just toughness,” said Mason, the youngest coach in NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball. “In the overtime every play was a toughness play. They converted on their last possession; we had the ball at the end and we didn’t convert on our toughness play.”
The final possession was chaotic, with Wagner players scrambling for offensive rebounds while St. Francis’ Martin denied any and all Seahawk attempts.
“It was wild,” said Braica of Wagner’s desperate drive for a game-winning basket. “He [Martin] did a good job. He rolled up and he’s long and we were able to get a stop”
By beating Wagner (10-11; 4-4 NEC) in their only meeting of the season, St. Francis (14-9; 5-3 NEC) holds on to third place in the conference. Up next: a Thursday night home game against St. Francis PA (6-15; NEC 4-4) then a crucial matchup on Saturday against league-leading Robert Morris (12-11; 7-1 NEC).
What will St. Francis’ fabulous freshman remember about his stellar effort under fire? “You got to work hard and learn from it,” Martin quipped.
PHOTO: St. Francis freshman Wayne Martin in action against University of Miami. Photo Credit: St. Francis Athletics