Binghamton men’s basketball battles back from 13-point halftime deficit but falls short

Freshman guard Jordan Reed scored 26 of his career-high 29 points in the second half, but the Binghamton men’s basketball team couldn’t overcome a 13-point halftime deficit in its 64-60 loss to Maine Saturday night at the Events Center.

For the third straight game, the Bearcats (3-23, 1-12 America East) went into halftime down by double digits after opening the contest 4-for-23 from the field. Reed, who said he was “looking for calls and not going to the rack as hard as [he] could,” shot 0-for-10 from the field in the first.

Senior guard Jimmy Gray picked up the slack for BU in the first half, knocking down 4-of-8 shots from the field for 10 of his 13 points. His layup with 15:47 to go in the first brought the Bearcats to within a point of the Black Bears (11-15, 6-7 AE). But from there, Maine sophomore forward Zarko Valjarevic ignited a 16-2 run that lasted eight minutes and gave the Black Bears a 24-9 lead.

Valjarevic, who scored a career-high and team-high 25 points in the contest, had no trouble exploiting Binghamton’s zone defense in the first half as he converted on 4-of-7 3-pointers and 6-of-6 foul shots. While Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey gave credit to Valjarevic, saying “he did a very good job of cutting and finding seams in the first half,” he said the Bearcats did a better job of communicating to limit him in the second.

“We needed to talk a little bit more,” Dempsey said. “[Valjarevic is] a good cutter, and he was moving around in the zone, and when he’s cutting from behind the zone, it has to be communicated … And I thought in the second half, the voices were going and we responded.”

The Bearcats tightened up their defense on Valjarevic in the final 20 minutes, limiting him to 1-of-4 shooting from the field. Dempsey emphasized how important defense was for his team in the second half after the Bearcats shot just over 21 percent from the field in the first.

“The reality of it is, you can’t control if you have a good shooting night or if the ball is going in the basket, but you have to control the defense,” Dempsey said. “I thought that we really missed some assignments [in the first half] … My thing is, if we’re going to have 20 at [the] half, it’s got to be 23-20 or 24-20. It can’t be 33-20 … I thought we found that combination in the second half where we didn’t give [Valjarevic] anything and coincidentally, we scored the ball.”

At halftime Binghamton assistant coach Ben Luber, who has worked extensively with Reed, pushed the 6-foot-4-inch freshman to bring everything he had in the latter half.

“Coach Luber recruited him and works with him every day with individual stuff and he’s very supportive of him. But he went after him at halftime,” Dempsey said. “Before you can really go after a kid, you really have to get to know him, and I think that they’re really tight, so it opened up the door for Ben to really get after him a bit.”

Reed responded in a big way, notching a double-double in the second half alone, scoring 26 points on 9-of-22 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line while pulling down 11 of his 17 rebounds. It was Reed’s third straight double-double, and he now he leads the conference with 11 total this season. Entering the night, Reed was ranked No. 2 in the nation in the category.

“[Coach Luber] definitely said some things that made me feel like I wasn’t bringing what I could to the table, and I know that hurts me and my teammates,” Reed said. “In the second half I just needed that wake up, just to stop looking for calls and go as hard as I can and, you know, just play.”

Reed, who scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on Feb. 12 against Stony Brook, has averaged 21.5 points and 13.5 rebounds over the team’s last two games, earning him his fifth America East Rookie of the Week honor, which he split with Boston University guard Maurice Watson Jr.

Binghamton junior center Roland Brown just missed a double-double with nine points and a season-high 10 rebounds in the loss, while teammate Brian Freeman posted six points, eight rebounds and three blocks.

The Bearcats are not scheduled to return to game action until Sunday at New Hampshire. The Wildcats (7-17, 3-9 AE) are coming off a 68-56 loss at Boston University, and will face Hartford on Wednesday.

Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. at Lundholm Gymnasium.