After tight first half, Vermont pulls away on BU’s Senior Day

With emotions riding high on Senior Night, the Binghamton men’s basketball team started strong against second-place Vermont. But the Catamounts, as they have done several times this season, wore down their opponent en route to a 78-61 Thursday night win at the Events Center.

Jonathan Heisler/ Photo Editor In its final home game of the season, Binghamton faltered in the second half, falling to Vermont 78-61.

Binghamton’s seniors led an early offensive charge that put the Bearcats ahead. Forward Javon Ralling scored the team’s first five points on two layups, one of which drew a foul, and guard Jimmy Gray buried a 3-pointer to give Binghamton its first lead, 8-7.

Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey said he thought the emotions did not play a factor in his team’s early surge.

“Once the ball goes up it’s just another basketball game. It really is,” he said. “I think the things that lead up to it get your juices flowing a little bit, coming out with your family and the crowd’s giving you a standing ovation. All those things are special and they’re all nice, but 30 seconds into that game, now it’s just a college basketball game.”

With Gray’s eight points leading the way, the Bearcats scored 18 points in the first eight-plus minutes against the America East’s second most efficient defense. Vermont entered the game allowing 91 points per 100 possessions in conference play.

But after the Binghamton run, the Catamounts buckled down and held the Bearcats to just two points over the next eight minutes. During that stretch, Vermont’s offensive patience also paid dividends, leading to layups and good looks for the Catamounts in the lane. When senior transfer Trey Blue converted a layup off a steal with 4:14 left, Vermont led 25-20.

But BU junior forward Roland Brown’s four points propelled an 8-2 Binghamton run, capped by a free throw by freshman guard Jordan Reed. The Bearcats had an opportunity to take a 28-27 lead into halftime, but Vermont got an offensive rebound and junior forward Luke Apfeld drew a foul by Brown as he connected on a 12-footer with three seconds left.

Vermont led 30-28 at the break.

The teams traded baskets to start the second half, and senior forward Taylor Johnston gave Binghamton a 35-34 lead after converting a four-point play. But just moments later, Johnston was whistled for a Flagrant 1 foul, which sparked a 14-4 Vermont run.

“That was a big stretch there after the flagrant foul,” Dempsey said. “They went on a big run there and from that point we were kind of chasing them.”

“But we never went away,” he added.

To that extent, the Bearcats cut the lead to six on two occasions, and a Gray 3-pointer at the 6:20 mark made it 62-55. But Vermont’s patience on offense helped quell any Binghamton run.

The Catamounts finished with a 38-14 advantage in the paint.

With Binghamton junior forward Brian Freeman sitting on the bench the entire game and classmate Alex Ogundadegbe playing just four minutes, Vermont held a significant size advantage.

“It wasn’t a lack of effort; it wasn’t a lack of execution,” Dempsey said. “It was a little bit of their guys were bigger than our guys. We fought and we competed and that’s our job.”

Vermont’s ability to score inside was aided by the patience and passing ability of junior forward Brian Voelkel, who finished with eight assists to go with 11 rebounds.

“He’s a very unique player, very effective,” Dempsey said. “It’s not only that he can pass, every guy can hurt you. He can pick you apart with multiple weapons, and he does it very well.”

The Catamounts shot 57.7 percent from the floor in the second half while the Bearcats shot just 32.4 percent. Binghamton, however, did not commit a second-half turnover and finished with a season-low eight on the game.

Reed finished with a game-high 18 points on 7-of-16 shooting to go with nine boards. His fifth rebound of the game broke Mahamoud Jabbi’s single-season program record of 241.

Ralling tacked on five rebounds and finished with a season-high 11 points.

Gray scored 16 points, shooting 6-for-15 from the floor and 4-for-8 from deep. He also recorded three assists and as many rebounds in his final home game.

Gray said he paid little attention to the symbolism of Senior Night, and said he cared more about the big picture.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this program, with the up and downs that we’ve gone through,” he said. “Even if we did lose our last [home] game, I’m just proud overall.”

The Bearcats have one more regular season game, a Sunday road match at UMBC, before facing top-seeded Stony Brook in the conference tournament.

Tipoff against UMBC is set for 2 p.m. at the Retrievers Activity Center.