Stony Brook picked apart the Binghamton men’s basketball team’s 2-3 zone early and cruised to a 72-49 victory in the America East tournament quarterfinals Saturday night at SEFCU Arena.
The top-seeded Seawolves (24-7, 14-2 America East), who fell to tournament host Albany Sunday in the semifinals, started off strong against the No. 8 Bearcats (3-27, 1-15 AE), scoring 16 of the game’s first 20 points by the 11:47 mark.
A Bearcat surge, featuring layups from seniors Jimmy Gray and Javon Ralling and a jumper from freshman guard Jordan Reed, cut the gap to 18-10 with 9:26 on the clock. But the Seawolves tightened their defensive pressure and embarked on a 29-7 run to end the half with a 37-14 lead.
The Bearcats’ 14 points at halftime tied for the second fewest in tournament history.
“I think the biggest challenge was trying to get off to a good start, and it didn’t happen for us,” BU head coach Tommy Dempsey said. “I think our confidence dipped a little bit and we ended up finding ourselves in a significant hole.”
But the Bearcats found their offensive rhythm in the second half, shooting 50 percent from the field and 60 percent from long range to score 35 points. Johnston and Gray each hit three 3-pointers. But Stony Brook, shooting 52.9 percent overall, converted 15 of its 26 second-half attempts from the floor to prevent Binghamton from staging a comeback.
“By the time we got comfortable out there and started playing better … we were too far behind,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey said with nothing to lose, his players felt little pressure out of halftime.
“Guys were able to just relax and try to finish their careers strong and represent the school well, and continue to fight for 40 minutes,” he said. “And they did that.”
Junior guard Anthony Jackson led Stony Brook with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting while junior guard Dave Coley and freshmen forwards Jameel Warney and Scott King also cracked double-figures.
And though two-time America East Defensive Player of the Year Tommy Brenton scored just one point, he blanketed Reed whenever the two were on the floor together.
Reed fared better against Brenton than he had in the teams’ first two meetings this year, when the senior held the freshman to 10.5 points per game. This time around, Reed scored 16 points on 6-of-13 shooting, but Brenton helped force five Reed turnovers.
Johnston and Gray contributed 13 and 11 points, respectively, with Johnston’s entire output coming in the second half.
The four BU seniors — Gray, Johnston, Ralling and guard Mike Horn — ended their collegiate careers respectably.
“I was happy to see in their last game that they all had a couple of moments where they did some really good things,” Dempsey said.
Now with the 2012-13 season over for the Bearcats, the head coach said he feels a sense of pride despite the disappointment that accompanies a three-win season.
“We prepared hard every night, we showed up and played hard and we did have a ‘never say die’ attitude,” he said. “Hopefully people will be proud of the fact that the team hung together, and played together, and did everything they could to represent the program and the University in that first-class manner.”
Albany senior guard Mike Black scored 16 points and hit the game-winning layup with 2.4 seconds left to knock off Stony Brook in the semifinals. The Seawolves have now fallen short as the tournament’s top seed in three of the last four years.
The Great Danes (23-10, 9-7 AE) are set to play second-seeded Vermont Saturday at UVM’s Patrick Gymnasium. Tipoff is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.