The Binghamton University men’s basketball team entered its final regular season match at University of New Hampshire on Sunday with nothing to lose. Except game No. 28.
As the Wildcats battled for control of their own destiny, entering their Senior Day game with the possibility of finishing anywhere from fifth to seventh in the America East standings, the 1-27 Bearcats had already locked in the last-place No. 9 seed going into next week’s conference tournament.
BU was also forced to played without its leading scorer, sophomore guard Rob Mansell, who was out with an injury.
New Hampshire toppled Binghamton, 58-49, handing the Bearcats their 28th loss of the season — by far, a program worst — and helping to cement BU’s spot at the bottom of NCAA Division I college basketball. With the loss, Binghamton (1-28, 1-15 America East) joined Towson University (1-30, 1-17 CAA) as the only two Division I teams to finish the 2011-12 regular season with just one win.
Binghamton entered Sunday’s game coming off its two best performances of the year against the University of Vermont and University at Albany the week prior at the Events Center.
On Feb. 21, the Bearcats recorded their first win of the season against then-first-place Vermont, topping the Catamounts 57-53 to avoid becoming just the second Division I team in history to go winless since the advent of the 29-game season. Two days later, Binghamton put up its best shooting performance of the year, shooting a season-high 51 percent from the field despite falling to Albany by 11.
But during the second half of the game against Albany, Mansell sustained an injury to his knee and had to be helped off the court. The sophomore, who ranks among the top-10 in the conference in scoring with an average of 14.0 points per game, did not make the trip to UNH (13-15, 7-9 AE) on Sunday.
Absent its leading scorer, Binghamton came out of the locker room on Sunday ice cold. The Bearcats missed seven of their first nine shots and quickly fell behind the Wildcats, 9-2. Not a single Binghamton player tallied more than five points in the game’s opening 20 minutes.
The Bearcats committed seven turnovers in the game’s first eight minutes, ending with 11 total in the first half, which ended with Binghamton facing a 31-19 deficit.
Head coach Mark Macon cited turnovers as one of the Bearcats’ biggest weaknesses in the game.
“You just have to be … very conscious of taking care of that basketball and making sure when you grab it, you’re holding onto it as tight as possible as if your life depended on it,” Macon said. “A lot of times, we do get down just because we turn the ball over and give the team an extra chance to get a basket.”
New Hampshire pushed its lead to as much as 17 points on two different occasions in the second half. Despite ending the game on a 9-1 run, the Bearcats were unable to mount the deficit.
Binghamton shot just 34 percent from the field on the day, including a 3-of-11 mark from 3-point range. The Bearcats did force 20 New Hampshire turnovers, but 17 of their own negated any advantage.
Junior guard Jimmy Gray played all 40 minutes and led the Bearcats with a game-best 20 points, as well as five rebounds and four steals.
The Bearcats saw much of their contribution come from the team’s freshmen. Forward Omar Richards recorded 13 points and a team-best eight rebounds off the bench while forward Jabrille Williams led the team on defense with a game-best four blocks and a pair of steals.
Forward Ben Dickinson also added 10 points, two rebounds and a pair of assists. Dickinson was named America East Rookie of the Week for the second time this year for his performances against UNH, Albany and Vermont, a span during which he averaged 15.7 points per game and nearly six rebounds.
Binghamton is now set to face off against the No. 8 seed, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in the first round of the America East tournament on Thursday. The two teams met last year in the first round of the tournament as well. The Bearcats hit a tournament record 17 3-pointers to knock off the Retrievers 91-65 to advance to the second round, where they eventually fell to No. 1 Vermont.
Binghamton dropped both regular season contests to UMBC this season, falling by six points on the road before suffering a 14-point loss at home less than a month later. This time around, there’s a chance the Bearcats will be without their leading scorer.
On Monday, Macon said that the team is still waiting to get the test results back on Mansell’s knee.
“If I was a betting man, I would tell you that it’s 50/50 if he can play,” Macon said. “But I’m not a betting a man … and we have to prepare as if he’s not playing.”
If the Bearcats are able to advance to the second round, they will face regular-season champion Stony Brook University, who beat out Vermont for the top seed with a win over the University of Maine on Sunday.
Tipoff for Binghamton’s game against UMBC is set for 8:15 p.m. Thursday at University of Hartford’s Chase Family Arena.