At 1-5 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Binghamton University men’s basketball team has had its share of early struggles.
Averaging fewer than 48 points per contest has led the Bearcats to five double-digit losses, and inconsistent individual performances have the team struggling to stay competitive.
But fans and supporters have remained positive, demonstrated by a crowd of more than 4,000 at last Tuesday night’s home game.
And, based on history, fans should be optimistic.
Nine current members of the Bearcat team were members of last year’s roster, a team looking to restore a heavily damaged image of a young Division I program.
Last year’s Bearcats didn’t only take the court to initiate the rebuilding process — they took the court to win, and, despite most predictions, did just that.
Similar to this season, Binghamton opened last year’s campaign with a win, but four ensuing double-digit losses had the team struggling to find any momentum. But interim head coach Mark Macon continued to work with his team, slowly ironing out the kinks, leading them to wins in four of their 10 remaining non-conference games.
Binghamton’s most impressive stretch, however, came during conference play, posting an 8-8 record, good enough for fifth in the America East.
While controversy led then-University President Lois DeFleur to keep the Bearcats out of last year’s conference tournament, this season’s team will have a chance to compete in the postseason. Although off to a slow start, Binghamton has shown more than a scoreboard can display.
In the second half of Tuesday’s game, BU outscored Canisius College 33-27, and held the Golden Griffins to 35 percent shooting. The Bearcats reached the foul line 18 times, knocking down 14 free throws after attempting none in the first half.
The team was clicking, the first time the Bearcats have looked like a legitimate threat since their season-opening win over Colgate University.
Binghamton’s schedule will help to prepare it for conference play. That schedule includes a home game against Cornell University, who made an improbable run to the Sweet 16 in last season’s NCAA tournament. The Bearcats’ next opponent, Hofstra University, is led by senior guard Charles Jenkins, whose talents have gotten the attention of numerous NBA scouts.
The challenging schedule will force the Bearcats to improve, preparing them for America East play.
“We’re getting ready for conference play, that’s our main goal,” Binghamton forward Greer Wright said. “But we still need the [wins].”
In his senior season, Wright has proven why he was a unanimous selection to the America East’s preseason All-Conference team. Through six games, Wright has topped 20 points three times, including a 27-point performance against Colgate in the season opener.
Senior guard Chretien Lukusa, one of three remaining members of Binghamton’s 2008-09 conference title team, has stepped up for the Bearcats all season. After averaging 7.1 points per game last season, Lukusa is averaging nearly 10 points per contest this year, including a 22-point performance against Army.
But as upperclassmen continue to step up for Binghamton, the Bearcats may have found a spark in freshman Alex Ogundadegbe. The 6-foot-8-inch forward has given BU some much needed size.
With six points Tuesday night, Ogundadegbe was able to contribute to the Bearcat offense.
One play, a half-court-length pass from Greer Wright, found Ogundadegbe open under the basket for the easy deuce, bringing BU within seven points of Canisius. Although a talented display by Wright, the fast break points proved that Binghamton’s older players have begun to trust their freshmen, even in close games. As interim head coach Mark Macon put it after the game, “this was Alex [Ogundadegbe's] night.”
Every Division I basketball team has its share of early season struggles. If the Bearcats continue to focus and work hard, the wins will come.