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Men’s basketball falls just short in back-and-forth contest with UMBC

Jimmy Gray’s three-pointer bounced off the iron as the buzzer sounded, and the Binghamton men’s basketball team lost to UMBC, 61-58, Wednesday night at the Events Center.

In a game that featured 10 ties and 14 lead changes, the Retrievers (5-16, 3-5 America East) pulled away for good as junior forward Chase Plummer scored consecutive baskets to help UMBC to a 59-54 cushion with two minutes left.

UMBC senior guard Brian Neller missed two free throws with eight seconds left, giving Binghamton (3-18, 1-7 AE) a chance, but Gray had to rush his shot.

“I was looking for an opening, just to take a shot, and my teammate found me, and I took it,” Gray said. “It was kind of a quick shot. I didn’t get a chance to really step into it and it was kind of late, but it was still a decent shot with the time running out.”

Though the defeat came as a disappointment, Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey said he was glad the team bounced back from Saturday’s loss, which he described as “embarrassing.”

“[Wednesday] was obviously a hard-fought game,” he said. “I thought we did a lot of things that gave us a chance to win. We’ve put ourselves into position to have a chance to win, but we didn’t make some plays there at the end of the game.”

The Bearcats took their first lead when senior forward Taylor Johnston buried a three-pointer with 13:34 left in the first half, but Neller had the hot hand for UMBC, knocking down four three-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. His last three of the half gave the Retrievers a 22-19 lead, and Dempsey switched to a box-and-one focused on shutting him down.

Despite BU senior guard Mike Horn eventually reducing Neller to a non-factor, Binghamton couldn’t carry a lead into halftime. Binghamton senior forward Javon Ralling hit a pair of free throws with 42 seconds left, but the Retrievers sprang into action yet again, and Plummer converted a layup to put UMBC up 27-26 at the half’s close.

A jumper by freshman guard Jordan Reed opened the second half and put the Bearcats ahead by one, but the teams would exchange the lead nine more times before the final buzzer.

Foul trouble relegated UMBC junior guard and leading scorer Ryan Cook to the bench for a significant chunk of the game, but his three-pointer with 3:06 left put the Retrievers ahead 55-53, a lead they would not relinquish.

Cook finished with just eight points, as Plummer scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half. Plummer’s ability to get position against Binghamton’s frontcourt proved to be key.

“He’s a guy who’s been very successful in this league, and he’s a good inside player,” Dempsey said of Plummer. “He played to his strengths and delivered some big baskets for his team.”

Binghamton shot 38.9 percent from the floor on Wednesday, just four days after a 30 percent shooting performance against New Hampshire. The Bearcats also went 4-of-20 from long range against UMBC.

“We’re struggling to make shots,” Dempsey said. “We try to get a good shot on every possession. My definition of a good shot is a shot that your teammates and coaches expect you to take and expect you to make. And I feel like if we get those kinds of shots for 40 minutes, we’ll get a good percentage.”

Reed led the Bearcats with 21 points and seven rebounds. He and Gray connected on four alley-oops, which ignited the crowd of 1,858.

Gray finished with 11 points and six assists while junior forward Brian Freeman scored six points and grabbed five rebounds.

With the loss, Binghamton finds itself in sole possession of last place in the America East standings, while UMBC resides in a tie for sixth.

Next on Binghamton’s schedule is Albany. The Great Danes (16-7, 5-4 AE) are coming off of a three-game losing streak, having suffered losses to Boston University, Vermont and Stony Brook, who comprise the top three of the America East. Albany currently stands in fourth place in the conference.

Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at the SEFCU Arena.