Don’t look now — especially if you’re a fan of the Binghamton men’s basketball team — but New Hampshire is on a roll.
The Wildcats (6-17, 4-6 America East), who will host the last-place Bearcats (5-19, 2-9 AE) tonight, have won three of their last five games. Most recently, they became the first America East team to steal a regular-season game from Stony Brook in Pritchard Gymnasium since Feb. 19, 2011.
“I know when we go down there (to New Hampshire) — just because they beat Stony Brook — they’re going to have an edge to them, being that we’re the last team in the league and they just beat the first team,” BU sophomore guard Jordan Reed said on Tuesday afternoon. “But I really don’t care about those guys because our guys … have been playing the best basketball that I’ve seen since I’ve been here.”
Reed’s statement brushes the border of hyperbole on an initial ingestion, but, seriously, try to recall a more encouraging two-game stretch since Tommy Dempsey took the reins as head coach in 2012. You can’t.
Though the Wildcats’ upset of Stony Brook (17-8, 9-2 AE) somewhat undermines Binghamton’s nail-biting Feb. 4 loss to the Seawolves, the Bearcats still played an elite America East team to the wire — for the first time under Dempsey — and subsequently answered every Maine spurt in a 15-point win on Saturday.
Reed earned America East co-Player of the Week honors after averaging 21.5 points, 15.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and two steals against Stony Brook and Maine (5-18, 3-8 AE). Following a four-game stretch between Jan. 23 and Feb. 1 in which he averaged just 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds, Reed has resuscitated the energy level that he rode to all-rookie honors last year.
“He’s playing with great enthusiasm and passion,” Dempsey said. “I think his teammates have lifted their level of play based on — you know, when you’re watching a guy that is your best player and he’s diving in the stands and diving on the floor and going for every rebound, I think that inspires your team. I think that we’ve lifted our level of play and part of it is just trying to match the level that he’s playing at right now.”
But just as much as Reed’s revival has buoyed the Bearcats, the emergence of freshman guard Daniel Dion and return of senior forward Chris Pelcher have morphed New Hampshire into a vastly different team than the one that mustered just 38 points at the Events Center on Jan. 9.
Dion, who played two scoreless minutes against Binghamton, has averaged 11.2 points and three assists in New Hampshire’s last five games. Pelcher, meanwhile, returned from a leg injury to help the Wildcats defeat Albany on Jan. 23. In the last five games, he has averaged 12 points, nine rebounds and 3.2 blocks.
With Dion and Pelcher playing key roles on Saturday, New Hampshire torched a stingy Stony Brook team for 1.14 points per possession.
“Now you have a point guard who’s playing well and a five-man who’s playing well, so that changes your team dynamic,” Dempsey said. “Pelcher in general, he just gives them confidence. He takes pressure off some of the other guys because they can throw the ball inside to him — you know, if they don’t have a good look or if they have a lot of ball pressure on them. Just having that inside presence I think has made everybody else’s life a little bit easier.”
Pelcher’s inside dominance could be the bane of the Bearcats, who traditionally struggle against imposing big men — the solid effort against Stony Brook sophomore Jameel Warney on Feb. 4 notwithstanding.
Senior forwards Roland Brown and Alex Ogundadegbe have provided encouraging minutes lately, especially Brown who scored a career-high 17 points against Maine. But with freshman forward Nick Madray shelved for the season and freshman forward Magnus Richards slumping, the Bearcats lack depth inside.
The impact of Madray’s injury is twofold. Though the physical, experienced Pelcher would likely have dominated Madray in one-on-one post matchups, the freshman would at least have provided another body to the frontcourt. Offensively, Madray could have shot over the Wildcats’ zone, as he did in a 21-point outing in the Jan. 9 win. Against New Hampshire’s man-to-man, a defensive scheme head coach Bill Herrion has employed more recently, Madray could have drawn Pelcher away from the basket.
“They tried to come in and play a lot of zone against us the first time, and Nick was able to find a lot of seams in the zone, was able to shoot over the top of the zone,” Dempsey said. “Obviously, Nick’s not going to play, and they’re playing more man-to-man. It is in a lot of ways going to be a very different matchup than it was the first time, but hopefully with similar results.”
And if Binghamton’s performance does yield similar results, the Bearcats will ride their first winning streak of the year into next week’s tilt with Albany.
“Any time we win, it feels good,” Reed said. “But I think this is definitely an important road trip for us to start getting on a roll before [the America East tournament] starts. I feel like if we beat a couple of teams it’ll be better for us in [the tournament], we won’t have to play a No. 1 seed.”
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. at Lundholm Gym in Durham, N.H.