When the lowly, mid-major Binghamton Bearcats took to the floor against the powerhouse No. 2 Michigan Wolverines, a competitive game was almost out of the question. Yet that is exactly what occurred for the first 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon, as the Bearcats (4-10) went toe-to-toe with Michigan (13-0), keeping the game close. Only a late run in the final minutes allowed the Wolverines to widen the gap, ultimately winning the game 74-52 in Ann Arbor.
For the majority of the game, the contest was much tighter than the final score suggested. Until the final 10 minutes of play, the largest lead Michigan managed to put together against the Bearcats was seven points, with the margin often being even closer than that.
“We played really hard,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey, per bubearcats.com. “I thought we kept them off balance and did everything we could to hang in there and give ourselves a chance to win.”
At the start of the game, the Wolverines knocked down three quick shots from downtown to take a 9-3 lead, and it seemed as if Michigan’s proficiency from 3-point range in recent games would contribute to a high-scoring performance.
But after that, the shots stopped falling so easily for the Maize and Blue. The Bearcats forced Michigan into settling for mid-range jumpers. Many of the looks were open, but the Wolverines could not get them to fall. The lack of offense from Michigan allowed the Bearcats to slowly claw their way back into the game. Senior forward Caleb Stewart led Binghamton’s offensive charge at this juncture, and a deep, elbow 3-pointer capped 7-0 run to put the Bearcats up 10-9.
The remainder of the half was a sloppy, low-scoring affair. Both teams shot poorly from the floor; only sophomore guard Jordan Poole’s success from beyond the arc kept Michigan ahead of Binghamton for most of the half, while Stewart and graduate student forward Chancellor Barnard accounted for the majority of Binghamton’s points in the half. The Wolverines were up by just five at the break, with both teams shooting 44 percent from the field.
The start of the second half continued in much the same way that the first half ended. Binghamton continued to play a scrappy game, forcing missed shots and blocking a couple of attempts, but the Bearcats failed to capitalize on Michigan’s stunted offense. The Wolverines entered the day as the top-five in the country in scoring defense, and that prowess asserted itself, resulting in Binghamton turnovers and few Bearcat points. With Michigan’s defense keeping Binghamton from pulling ahead, it was only a matter of time before that Wolverine offense got hot.
Binghamton was within three as late as the 11-minute mark, but then the mid-range jumper that Michigan had such trouble with finally started to fall. Freshman forward Iggy Brazdeikis and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers took over offensively, shooting 11 of Michigan’s 16 field goals in the half, combining for 25 of 40 total second-half points.
“As fatigue set in late in the game the bigger and stronger team enforced their will and we didn’t have a lot of answers in the last six or seven minutes,” Dempsey said.
In total, Michigan ended the game on a 28-9 run to win by a sizable, 22-point margin. Brazdeikis led all scorers with 21 points, while Barnard led the Bearcats with 14. Noticeably quiet in this matchup were Binghamton’s two most prolific scorers, freshman guard Sam Sessoms and graduate student guard J.C. Show, both of whom shot dismally from the floor. In the end, Binghamton gave the home team more of a challenge than most people expected, but Michigan eventually proved too much to handle.
“That’s a team that can win the national championship,” Dempsey said. “They have the size and the defensive DNA and they are undefeated for a reason.”
Binghamton’s first game of 2019 will take place on Wednesday, Jan. 2, when the Bearcats take on Columbia at home. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. from the Events Center in Vestal, New York.