LORETTO - St. Francis has given two of the best teams in the Northeast Conference a tough battle the past three days, which is a sign of progress and potential.
But they've still been losses, dropping the Red Flash to 3-14 overall and 1-3 in the NEC.
"When you're this close, it hurts. It hurts," SFU coach Rob Krimmel said of the narrow defeats.
The Flash got off to a great start, building a 13-point lead in the first half Saturday, but their offense went ice cold to start the second half. That 10-minute dry spell, in which the team shot 1-for-15, doomed SFU in a 56-50 loss to Wagner at DeGol Arena.
"I feel like we're just right there, and it's just something small that's keeping us from winning," said Flash forward Earl Brown, who had 25 points and eight rebounds.
St. Francis had a double-digit lead with four minutes left Thursday night at Robert Morris but managed to blow it in a 73-68 loss. Wagner was picked to win the NEC in the preseason, and the Flash gave the Seahawks everything they wanted down to the wire.
Had St. Francis won either of those games, Krimmel believes it could have served as a springboard to success.
"For these guys, they need a statement win," the coach said. "A team like Robert Morris, a team like Wagner our last two games, [beating them] helps get you over the hump."
But since his team didn't win, Krimmel knows his players have to stay confident after the close losses rather than hang their heads and let the disappointment linger into future games.
"That's key," Krimmel said. "For young kids, that's part of the maturation process and continuing to believe in what you are as an individual and who you are as a player and continuing to get better."
St. Francis opened up a 17-4 lead eight minutes into the game, with Wagner making only two of its first 12 shots. The issue for the Flash during that stretch, though, was that the Seahawks were getting good looks, they were just missing their shots.
"What I wanted them to really do was just keep focusing on the defensive end," Wagner coach Bashir Mason said. "If we got stops, I knew those shots we were missing early were going to start going in."
That's exactly what happened, and Wagner trimmed its deficit down to 29-28 by halftime. St. Francis' offense went stagnant during the final few minutes of the first half, relying heavily on individual play instead of crisp ball movement, and the Flash's problems got even worse to start the second half.
St. Francis built a brick city for more than 10 minutes, and the 1-for-15 dry spell turned a one-point lead into an eight-point deficit. Ollie Jackson made a 3-pointer and Ronnie Drinnon two free throws during the span as SFU fell behind, 42-34.
"We just had to knock down some shots," Krimmel said. "We got the shots that we wanted to get, we just had to step up and make one or two of those and I think it changes [things]."
Brown's bucket with 9:51 left ended the 1-for-15 funk, and Drinnon's tip-in a minute later had the Flash right back in striking distance down 42-38. Ben Millaud-Meunier's free throw with 8:37 to go cut it to three, and it was nip and tuck the rest of the way.
Steph Whyatt drilled a 3-pointer from the right baseline with 1:58 remaining to bring SFU within 50-48. The Flash had a chance to cut it to one, but Malik Harmon and Millaud-Meunier missed 3-pointers on back-to-back trips.
Wagner (9-8, 3-1) sealed the win with a bucket by Orlando Parker with 1:27 left and four free throws by Marcus Burton in the final 20 seconds.
Brown was the only SFU player to score in double digits, and the Flash shot just 32.8 percent from the field. Drinnon added eight points and Whyatt seven off the bench.
Burton led Wagner with 14 points, and Latif Rivers had 12. The Seahawks didn't shoot much better, finishing at 34.5 percent.
"I'm pleased with the way they've responded in the Northeast Conference and the challenge of playing 40 minutes," Krimmel said of his team.
If they continue to do that, he added, the players will understand "they're going to give themselves a great chance to win."
WAGNER (9-8): Moody 0-2 0-0 0, Folahan 0-4 1-2 1, Anderson 2-6 0-0 4, Ortiz 3-10 2-2 8, Rivers 5-9 2-2 12, Harris 2-9 2-2 8, Burton 3-7 6-7 14, Naurais 0-0 0-0 0, Parker 4-8 1-3 9. Totals 19-55 14-18 56.
ST. FRANCIS (3-14): E. Brown 10-20 4-5 25, Drinnon 3-5 2-2 8, Harmon 1-6 0-0 3, G. Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Jackson 1-12 0-0 3, Whyatt 3-4 0-0 7, Millaud-Meunier 1-8 1-2 4, Major 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-58 7-9 50.
Halftime-St. Francis 29-28. 3-Point Goals-Wagner 4-12 (Burton 2-4, Harris 2-6, Rivers 0-1, Anderson 0-1), St. Francis 5-24 (Whyatt 1-1, E. Brown 1-2, Harmon 1-3, Jackson 1-7, Millaud-Meunier 1-8, Drinnon 0-1, Major 0-2). Fouled Out-G. Brown. Rebounds-Wagner 43 (Parker 8), St. Francis 34 (E. Brown, Jackson 8). Assists-Wagner 7 (Ortiz 5), St. Francis 6 (Harmon 2). Total Fouls-Wagner 9, St. Francis 15. Technicals-E. Brown 2 (ejected). A-1,012.