ALBANY, N.Y.—The faces at the end of the bench said it all.
Dejection. Frustration. Consternation. This wasn’t the script the Binghamton men’s basketball team had written for itself entering the America East tournament, but it was the one fate delivered.
Hartford (17-15, 10-6 America East) dominated every facet of Saturday night’s game and coasted to a 69-42 victory to advance to the conference semifinals and send the Bearcats (7-23, 4-12 AE) into hibernation until November.
“It was really shocking,” sophomore guard Jordan Reed said. “I think all of us came into it with the mindset that we were going to win, but unfortunately we didn’t come out with a win at all.”
Just 10 days ago, the Bearcats took the Hawks into overtime before falling, 89-83. They also lost to Hartford on a last-second putback on Jan. 23.
Hartford junior guard Corban Wroe — who scored nine points, grabbed eight rebounds and played a key role in limiting Reed to seven points — said his team could not afford to take Binghamton lightly.
“I think the first two games, especially the first game, it was not a lack of respect but definitely a lack of focus coming into the game,” he said. “This game coming in we were ready for them.”
The Hawks pounced early with a 17-3 run in the first eight minutes. The Bearcats would never come closer than seven points, shooting 28.6 percent to Hartford’s 52.2 percent.
“I didn’t feel like we handled [the start] well or as well as we should have,” said freshman guard Yosef Yacob, who posted a team-high 10 points on 3-of-6 shooting. “They really got out on us, and it just felt like we were behind the entire time trying to fight and crawl back. It just felt like we didn’t have enough in the tank to cut it down.”
Hartford junior forward Mark Nwakamma dominated inside to the tune of 19 points, five rebounds and a career-high six blocks. Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey blamed his gameplan, predicated on suffocating Hartford’s shooters.
“That was not the right decision, and I take full responsibility for that,” he said. “I wanted to try to press their shooters better, and strategically it wasn’t the right move.”
It also didn’t effectively limit Hartford’s long-range threats. The Hawks, who converted 21 of 52 3-point attempts in the regular-season series with Binghamton, drilled nine of their 21 treys tonight. Sophomore guard Taylor Dyson led the group with four triples, and matched Nwakamma with a game-high 19 points.
Even Nwakamma, a 30.8 percent 3-point shooter who had hit just 12 treys all season, joined the party. His 3-pointer with 16:29 remaining in the game extended Hartford’s lead to 43-26 and was part of a 29-6 spurt that put the match out of reach.
With year two of the Dempsey era officially in the books, the Bearcats expect to improve during the offseason and continue their climb out of the league’s lower tier.
“We’re a better team right now — it’s not even close — than we were a year ago,” said Dempsey, whose Bearcats won three of their last six regular-season games. “At this time next year we’ll be a better team than we are today. How much better? We’ll figure that out. That’ll come down to how much we’re willing to invest in the offseason. I think the sting of this, getting beat like that — we’ll absorb it, we’ll give the guys a little time off and then we’ll use it to fuel our fire as we get ready to take another step forward next year.”
The No. 3 seed had advanced to the America East semifinals just once in the last 10 years before Hartford’s win over Binghamton. The top four seeds had not advanced to the semifinals since 1999.