Shame on you, Binghamton University students, if you were not in the Events Center last Saturday supporting the men’s basketball team with the other 4,800 fans in attendance. For on that frigid night, the Bearcats (10-13 overall, 5-3 America East) defeated America East Conference foe New Hampshire (8-11 overall, 3-5 AE) 76-73 in front of a packed Events Center crowd that was reminiscent of last season’s AE championship game crowd.
With ice in his veins, Binghamton’s star forward Greer Wright sank two free throws with nine seconds remaining in overtime to put the Bearcats up by three and essentially seal the victory.
The game started off as a back-and-forth affair. Both teams are known for their strong defense and gritty play, and baskets were hard to come by.
“We knew they could really shoot the ball so we tried to make them attack the hoop,” Binghamton junior Chretien Lukusa said.
Although Binghamton was successful in contesting New Hampshire’s outside shots, the Wildcats began to pull away midway through the first half as they were outworked the Bearcats down low and earned themselves numerous second and third chance points. Six-foot-8-inch, 240-pound junior big man Dane DiLiegro, who leads the Wildcats with 8.4 rebounds per game, led the inside attack. New Hampshire led by as many as nine points in the first half. By halftime, the Bearcats were able to cut the lead to four points with a score of 32-28 in New Hampshire’s favor. “They’re just a good team,” Lukusa said. “They play good defense.”
The Wildcats have been unlucky against the Bearcats as of late. In the last four affairs between the two teams, the Bearcats have emerged victorious every time. In the three closest of these four games, the Bearcats have won by a total of nine points. Also in these three games, the Bearcats came up huge with just seconds remaining to put them over the top. Two of the games were even extended to overtime. Without question, this was in the back of the minds of the Wildcats’ players and coaches as they entered the second half with momentum still in their favor.
The second half started much like the first as the two teams battled hard. However, midway through the second half, the Bearcats were able to chip away at New Hampshire’s advantage until they finally took the lead at the 11:13 mark for the first time since the 12:48 point in the first half. Junior transfer forward Greer Wright, who finished with 29 points in the contest and leads Binghamton in points, rebounds, assists and steals, was responsible for keeping the Bearcats close throughout the game. “This is the first time I saw Greer live,” New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion said. “He’s as good an offensive player as I’ve seen in this league. A 6-foot-7-inch perimeter player poses a lot of problems.”
However, a balanced Bearcat attack is to thank for Binghamton making its comeback in the second half. Captains Lukusa and Moussa Camara, as well as first year players Mahamoud Jabbi and Dylan Talley all contributed greatly.
With 55 seconds remaining in regulation and the Bearcats trailing by two, Lukusa knocked down a fade away 3-pointer from the left corner to put the Bearcats up by one and send the Events Center crowd into a frenzy. Wildcat freshman Ferg Myrick answered with two foul shots to put the Wildcats back up by one. Wright was sent right back to the line with 25 seconds left, though he was only able to convert on one of his two free throws, which tied the game. Tough defense forced a tough baseline jumper by Myrick, which hit the back rim, and the buzzer sounded as the ball was rebounded by Binghamton, and the match went to overtime.
Freshman Pina Guillaume stepped up for Binghamton in overtime, as he scored five consecutive points for the Bearcats before the two-minute mark. With the Bearcats leading by one point at the 58-second mark, Talley, also a freshman, made a strong drive and made a 3-point play as he converted on the layup despite getting fouled.
After Talley hit the foul shot, Wildcat freshman Myrick answered with a beautiful crossover dribble into a 3-pointer to pull the Wildcats back to within one. However, the ball fittingly found its way back into Wright’s hands for the Bearcats as the Wildcats fouled him to stop the clock. Wright calmly sank both free throws with nine seconds remaining in the contest to put the Bearcats ahead 76-73, and Binghamton would go on to play tough defense and force the Wildcats into missing a contested shot at the end of overtime.
“I wish we could just finish games in regulation, but I’ll still take the W,” Lukusa joked after the game, as the Bearcats found a way to pull out yet another close game — something which they have made a habit of over the past two seasons.
Macon summed the game up well as he explained, “As [former head] coach Broadus always said, ‘The basketball gods were on our side tonight.’”
The Bearcats look to continue their climb up the conference standings as they take on AE opponent, and arguably the team’s biggest rival, Albany this Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Events Center.