It was heartbreak of a slightly different sort for the Binghamton University men’s basketball team on Sunday.
After trailing University of Hartford by 11 points with just under two minutes left in the game, the Bearcats battled back to within two points before the clock ran out on their best shot at victory thus far all season. Hartford topped the Bearcats, 62-60, completing the season sweep over Binghamton.
“I thought it was a great performance,” said Binghamton head coach Mark Macon. “I thought they fought until the very last end … They played 40 minutes, hard, and just continued to fight throughout the whole game.”
Down by just six points at halftime, Binghamton got off to a sluggish start in the second half and quickly found itself trailing by 14 after a 13-5 Hartford run in the half’s first five minutes.
Over the next six minutes, though, BU freshman forward Ben Dickinson led the Bearcats on an 11-3 run to pull back within six points of Hartford. Dickinson, who finished the afternoon with a game-best 18 points, ignited the run with three straight baskets, unanswered by the Hawks.
But Hartford would hold Dickinson to just a single bucket for the contest’s final 10 minutes, and the game again began to slip out of the Bearcats’ reach.
With six minutes left and Binghamton down by 13, however, junior guard Jimmy Gray and freshman forward Jabrille Williams sunk back-to-back 3-pointers to keep the Bearcats alive.
Over the next three and a half minutes, though, the Hawks held BU to just two points, and Binghamton soon found itself trailing by the aforementioned 11 with less than two minutes left to play.
But familiar with the feeling of being behind, the Bearcats did not panic. Instead, they began to a stage a nearly stunning comeback.
Beginning with a bucket from Williams with 1:42 left in regulation, Binghamton took off on a 13-4 run that left the Bearcats just one shot shy of its first regular-season win since Feb. 16, 2011.
Following the basket from Williams, sophomore guard Rob Mansell forced a Hartford turnover and converted on an easy layup to bring BU within seven. The Hawks would respond with two points and a 30-second timeout seconds later.
With his team down by nine with 36 seconds left to play, Dickinson tallied two points and Binghamton sent the Hawks to the line with a foul from Williams, his third. Hartford senior guard Andres Torres missed the front end of the 1-and-1, however, and Dickinson grabbed the board. Mansell then hit a jump shot to bring the Bearcats to within five with 20 seconds on the clock.
Wasting no time, Binghamton committed another foul, and again Hartford came up empty. Williams picked up the rebound and, down the court, Mansell was fouled. The sophomore hit both of his free throws to make it a three-point game with 12 seconds to play.
The Bearcats committed yet another quick foul, but this time, Torres sank each of his free throws to make it 62-57 Hartford with eight seconds remaining.
In BU’s next possession, Gray nailed a 3-pointer to bring the Bearcats the closest they had been to victory all year. But with less than two seconds left on the clock, Binghamton was instead left with its 24th loss of the season, falling to the Hawks 62-60.
Gray ended the game with nine points, all of which came from 3-pointers in the second half after early foul trouble benched him for all but two minutes of the first.
Prior to Sunday’s game, Gray led the team in playing time, averaging over 36 minutes of action per contest. Macon acknowledged that he was pleased with the performance of several of his players off the bench, who stepped up in Gray’s absence.
“I think they responded very well,” Macon said. “Those guys on the bench did exactly what they’re capable of doing, what they’re supposed to do. When a guy goes out of a game we have to come in and keep the ship afloat or take the ship and heat it up a little bit, and that’s what we did.”
Junior forward Javon Ralling, who led the Bearcats in minutes with 39, posted a career-best 15 points and added five rebounds. Leading scorer Dickinson ended the night 7-of-12 from field with six rebounds, tying Williams for the team-high, and a game-best four assists. Mansell added 10 points.
While the Bearcats out-rebounded Hartford 32-28, they lost the contest in field goal percentage, shooting 43 percent to the Hawks’ 48.
Binghamton is set to play host to eighth-place University of Maryland, Baltimore County tomorrow night at the Events Center in what, on paper, may seem to be the team’s best remaining shot at victory this season. The Retrievers have just two conference wins on the year and will enter the game riding a seven-game losing streak. When the two teams met at the Retrievers Activities Center Arena on Jan. 19, the Retrievers topped Binghamton, 64-58.
Tipoff for tomorrow night’s game against UMBC is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Events Center.