David Katz/Staff Photographer

The monkey is officially off the Bearcats’ back.

Despite allowing a substantial halftime lead whittle down to a two-point advantage with nine seconds left in the game, Binghamton University’s men’s basketball team (3-5) was able to hold on just long enough and defeat the Bucknell University Bison (4-5) last Monday. The non-conference game marked the Bearcats’ first victory over a Division I opponent of the 2009-10 season. The Bison play in the Patriot League, a fairly competitive Division I basketball conference.

Binghamton’s interim head coach Mark Macon put his bomb squad on the floor to start the game, as four of the team’s first five field goal attempts were from 3- point range. Many of long range attempts were taken due to strong defense by the Bison which prevented the Bearcats from driving into the lane. However, the Bearcats jumped out to a 9-3 lead roughly four minutes into the contest after hitting three of their shots from downtown.

After lessening the point differential to two, Bucknell would then allow Binghamton to go on a 10-0 run midway through the first half. The Bison’s struggles continued into halftime, as they scored just six points in the last 11:21 of the first half.

Bucknell’s head coach Dave Paulsen credited Binghamton’s good defensive effort and coaching for holding his team to just 13 points in the first half.

“They had a stronger defensive game plan than what we are accustomed to,” Paulsen said.

He also thought that a recent 104-98 overtime loss to a very competitive team was partially to blame for his team starting the game out flat.

“We played a really emotionally draining game at Cornell [just two days ago]. It made this one tough.”

The Bearcats would go into halftime leading 27-13. In order to give the Bearcats a challenge, Bucknell would need to get focused and turn up its intensity in the second half. And it did just that. Rather than continuing its play, which was reminiscent of its squad from the 2008-09 season which finished with an overall record of 7-23, the Bison looked rejuvenated after the midway point.

The Bison would slowly but surely chip away at Binghamton’s 17-point lead starting at the 15:54 mark. After converting on five 3-pointers in seven possessions midway through the second half, the Bison were down by only eight points with 9:45 left in the game and the momentum had shifted in their favor.

The rest of the game would turn into a dog fight. Only six points were scored by either team in the proceeding five minutes of game play. Then down by 10 points, Bucknell began to foul starting at the 2:12 mark in order to stop the clock and get extra possessions. The strategy worked, as the team was able to lessen Binghamton’s lead to two points as Binghamton missed some of its free throws and was not able to prevent Bucknell from scoring quick and easy buckets.

“We build leads and tend to give them away,” said Macon. “That’s something we are improving on.”

As looks of disbelief swept across the fans’ faces after seeing a laughter turn into a nail-biter, junior guard and co-captain Moussa Camara was sent to the line, his team leading by two points with six seconds left in the contest.

“My first shot on my last trip [to the line, just 12 seconds earlier] was way off. But I knew to get a four-point lead I had to make those.” Camara, who finished the game with 13 points and three steals in 21 minutes of action, did his job and hit both free throws as the crowd let out a big sigh of relief. The game was out of reach for the Bison, who could not manage to score in the last six seconds of gameplay. The Bearcats would go on to win 64-60.

Junior swingman and co-captain Chretien Lukusa, who played 35 minutes in the game, admitted that the win was a big morale booster for the team. “Guys in the locker room were definitely looking forward to our first Division I win,” he said.

Just don’t expect Macon to allow his team to do too much celebrating. “It doesn’t matter if [our victory was against] a Division 9 team,” he said. “Every game is a turning point for us, and we’re not done. When I get home I’m going to get right on my computer and start watching film of [Monday’s opponent] Marshall.”

Junior transfer Greer Wright led the Bearcats with 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists in 38 minutes of action. Freshman Dylan Talley also had another strong outing, finishing with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 34 minutes.

“Every game is a turning point,” Macon said. “Because we’re learning and growing every day, we’re getting better every day.”

Just over 3,500 people were in attendance on Friday to see the Bearcats defeat the Bison. This was another solid showing by the fans at the Events Center as they continue to rally around the team despite much offseason controversy.