For a winless basketball team, the first victory is always the toughest. For the Bearcats, the second one may prove to be just as tough.
The University at Albany Great Danes (18-13, 9-7 America East) denied Binghamton University its second consecutive win with a 74-63 victory at the Events Center Thursday night, dropping the woeful Bearcats to 1-27 overall and 1-14 in conference play and locking them into the bottom seed for the upcoming America East tournament.
In a season that has mostly featured the Bearcats being beaten handily, Binghamton fought hard against an Albany squad that will be the No. 4 seed in the postseason tournament. The teams were nearly identical in almost every statistic across the box score, save for two big ones: 3-point shooting and rebounding. The Great Danes were white hot from deep, hitting 8-of-14 overall, including 5-of-7 shooting from guard Jacob Iati, who was called upon due to a rash of Albany injuries.
“Today they came out and shot the lights out,” BU junior forward Taylor Johnston said. “We weren’t really prepared for [Iati] to hit as many shots as he did.”
The Bearcats got off to a solid start after their first victory; sophomore guard Rob Mansell hit the first shot the team took, a 3-pointer. Aided by buckets from freshman forward Ben Dickinson and Johnston, Binghamton was out to a quick 7-5 lead.
But for every step the Bearcats took, the Great Danes seemed to be right there with them. Albany was hot from behind the arc early and took a lead that it refused to let go of.
Johnston scored five points in a row to open the second half, followed by a deuce from junior forward Javon Ralling and four points in a row from Dickinson, pulling the Bearcats to within five. But Albany hit a couple more from downtown and wore down the Bearcat defense to push its lead back to double-digits.
The Bearcats were dealt an unexpected blow when Mansell went down with an injury just under seven minutes into the second half. Mansell, the team’s leading scorer, was helped to the locker room and did not return to the game. Head coach Mark Macon said he should be getting an MRI soon, but that nothing further was known about his injury.
Dickinson earned a few tough buckets to bring the Bearcats to within nine. But when Albany committed two consecutive fouls with Binghamton in the bonus, freshman forward Omar Richards missed the front end of both one-and-one opportunities. The Bearcats had been perfect from the free throw line until Richards’s misses in the second half; he was 2-of-6 from the line in the game while his teammates shot a cool 11-of-12.
“I think he took that hard,” Macon said. “He held onto it, and I think that caused the next two that he missed. During that whole stint, when he was making or missing free throws, he was making defensive plays. He just got to the free-throw line and missed it, and they made theirs. But that’s the game; you have to be able to shoot your free throws.”
The Bearcats continued to try to claw back into the game, but Albany’s free-throw shooting kept them at bay for the remainder of the contest.
“They still played well,” Macon said. “They still played hard, we just couldn’t grind it out. But I’m just as proud of them today as I was yesterday. They’re a great group of guys, and they know they’re getting better.”
Dickinson finished with 21 points and four boards, while Johnston tallied 12 points. The team shot a season-best 51.1 percent from the field and matched Albany in turnovers, but it wasn’t enough for a team with 3,548 in attendance eager for another tally in the win column.
Macon emphasized that even though the game is meaningless in terms of seeding, he will push the pedal to the floor in the season’s final regular season game.
“You put it all out in that game,” he said. “You’re there. You’ve already got your dress on; there is no rehearsal. You play in the muscle, you play in the mud, you give it everything you’ve got in that last game. You don’t hold anything back. No one’s prom is tomorrow. You have to go down there and you have to play it like it’s your first and your last game. You give it everything you have.”