Wagner has 7 scholarship players for the March Madness. The Seahawks are eager to keep playing

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Ask Donald Copeland about his expectations for Wagner this season and he's quick with a quip.

“I expected to have 13 players," the coach said, "but we don't always get what we want.”

At this point, it's understandable why there's might be a degree of mobid humor about the Seahawks' roster plight. Yet there's also a pride to even be here: in the NCAA Tournament, preparing to face No. 1 regional seed North Carolina on Thursday.

That's because the West Region's No. 16 seed has seven scholarship players available due to a dizzying wave of injuries, which have kept the team from a full-go practice since late December and even had their assistant coaches having to take workout reps.

“We never focused on just having seven,” Copeland said Wednesday. “We focused on what we needed to do in practice. We focused on what the next opponent was going to do to try and win a game.”

It's hard enough to have have success like this with a full roster, winning a First Four game for a program that had never won a March Madness game in its history. The roster hits have made it nothing short of incredible.

A team picked fifth in the Northeast Conference is still playing after winning the NEC Tournament title, then holding off Howard in Tuesday’s First Four.

“I think at this time it’s all about maturity,” guard Julian Brown said, adding: “It’s just about us coming together and staying connected through these times.”

The injuries came quickly this season for the tiny college on Staten Island in New York City.

The Seahawks never had Green Gay transfer Zae Blake or Central Arkansas transfer Churchill Bounds in the lineup due to knee injuries. They lost senior guard Rahmir Moore to a wrist injury in the third game. Junior forward Rob Taylor II went down to shoulder injury after eight games, while starting junior guard Zaire Williams played nine games before being sidelined by a knee injury.

The team also lost redshirt sophomore Di'Andre Howell-South to a torn knee ligament in practice after 11 games.

That meant no more 5-on-5 practices, with no live-contact practice since Dec. 27 and coaches having to jump into the fray. Junior guard Tahron Allen said there’s plenty of “just mental days" for film work and other preparation.

“It was unorthodox at times, for sure," Copeland said. “I had to switch certain things. I had to change some of our drills differently. I had to come up with new things. ... My staff was phenomenal throughout this whole thing because I drive them as well, and then I’m also asking them to be token players as we prepare for other teams. They did it. They’re in great shape, I make sure of it.”

In their public workout at Spectrum Center on Wednesday, the Seahawks proved to be a vocal and energetic bunch. Plenty of clapping and constant chatter going through ball-weaving passing drills. There was an urgency to get a pass to start the next set of drills. It showed up right to the end, as the players took turn launching halfcourt shots as the seconds ticked away in their oncourt session.

“Someone's got to make one!" one voice yelled. ”Hurry up!"

As the horn sounded, roughly a half-dozen players lightheartedly chucked their ball toward the rim at once — none went in — before posing at midcourt for a team photo and heading to the locker room.

This is all part of an experience unlike any other.

“There’s no script for it,” Copeland said. “I still have friends in college coaching. No one could tell me how to do this right now.”


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness