Men’s basketball can’t overlook Saturday’s tilt with UMass Lowell

The Binghamton men’s basketball team followed each of its first three wins with a woeful performance, and Tommy Dempsey hopes that trend reverses today.

“We have to get to a point where we’re not happy because we won a game,” the second-year head coach of the Bearcats (4-11, 1-1 America East) said after Friday’s practice. “I understand that a little bit around here because the last few years they haven’t won many, but if we’re going to become a good program, we’ve got to win one and we’ve got to build on it and win the next one.”

The Bearcats, who routed New Hampshire on Thursday, will host UMass Lowell at 4:30 p.m. with an opportunity to string together a pair of wins over Division I opponents for the first time since Jan. 10, 2011.

Despite the River Hawks’ 2-11, 1-1 AE record, Binghamton cannot afford to overlook its guest in favor of a daunting four-game stretch that includes trips to Stony Brook, Albany and Vermont. UMass Lowell, playing its inaugural season as a Division I team, has competed with several of its adversaries this season, most notably taking a tie into halftime at Michigan in the season opener.

“We were really locked into this weekend after the loss to Maine, coming back home and taking care of business,” Dempsey said. “I don’t think anyone’s given any thought to the game [at Stony Brook] on Wednesday.”

Buoyed by the return of senior guard Antonio Bivins, the River Hawks defeated UMBC on Jan. 5 for the program’s first win over a Division I opponent. UMass Lowell had diagnosed Bivins with a torn Achilles tendon over the summer, making the senior a candidate for a medical redshirt.

But like Binghamton sophomore guard Karon Waller, Bivins, who had been cleared to practice, felt he could bolster his struggling team. He did in his first game of the season, scoring 14 points and corralling four boards.

For the second straight game, Binghamton will have to counter a team encouraged by the return of a key member. New Hampshire leading scorer and rebounder Chris Pelcher played Thursday night for the first time in eight games, but the Bearcats rendered him a non-factor.

“I really think having [Bivins] back really gave them a lot of confidence in the UMBC game—that was what I was worried about [on Thursday],” Dempsey said. “Sometimes you get your best player back, and everyone else could be like, ‘Oh, we’re going to be okay because Chris is back.’”

The River Hawks are averaging just 91.8 points per 100 possessions—slightly better than Binghamton’s 90.4 points but still No. 340 nationally—and allowing 111.1 points per 100 possessions. Battling Division I teams with a Division II level is no easy task, and UMass Lowell’s competitive nature can only help so much.

But the River Hawks have one player widely regarded as a Division I guard: senior Akeem Williams.

The 5-foot-10 Williams has shot just 35 percent from the floor this year, but he leads UMass Lowell with 14.2 points per game. He scored 1,615 points at the Division II level.

“He’s a Division II star that would be playing on any Division I team in our league, playing a big role,” Dempsey said. “The one thing he has because he’s been a Division II star is confidence. He’s had a lot of minutes under his belt. He’s taken a million shots. He’s a veteran, so he knows how to play.”

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