Led by freshman guard Sam Sessoms’ 34 points, the Binghamton men’s basketball team was able to stage a rally in the second half and cut Hartford’s lead to 10. Unfortunately for BU, it was too little too late. The Bearcats (8-21, 4-10 America East) struggled defensively, falling by a score of 96-76 to the Hawks (16-13, 9-5 AE).

“I said coming into it it’s the toughest matchup in the league for us, Hartford is,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey. “The way they can pass the ball, shoot the ball, we’re playing so much zone defense. I just thought they picked us apart because they have five guys that can pass and five guys that can shoot.”

The 96 points Hartford scored demonstrated the major defensive struggles Binghamton faced during the game. Senior forward George Blagojevic finished the game with a season-high 32 points. He started the game 13-for-13 on field goals before missing a layup with 14 minutes left in the second half.

“We had to pick our poison — Blagojevic, he killed us,” Dempsey said. “They came in, they played a really, really good game. Our kids showed a lot of heart, got back into the game. Sam had a super second half to kind of give us a pulse there.”

The best sequence of the game for Binghamton happened in the second half. After a 27-18 run by Binghamton to start the second, Hartford’s lead was cut to 73-63. Fourteen of those points were scored by Sessoms, who set a new career high with 34 in the game, tying the school record. Earlier this season, Sessoms approached the record, scoring 32 in a loss to UMass Lowell.

“My jump shot just was falling,” Sessoms said. “Once I start making threes, I’m a lot more difficult to guard. I’m known for driving to the basket and making tough layups, but once my jump shot is falling, you got defenders with happy feet — they don’t know whether to back up or get up on me.”

Hartford closed out the game strong in what ended as a 20-point victory in its favor. The Hawks’ depth plagued the Bearcats in a game that they dominated with the exception of a mid-game run.

The game was notable for the lack of free throws attempted by Binghamton. It took until the final four minutes for Binghamton to attempt one. Throughout the game, Hartford did not commit any shooting fouls.

“We had a tough matchup tonight, but we’re playing better,” Dempsey said. “We’re playing with more confidence, we’re trying to send our seniors out with some wins here down the stretch and a push in the conference tournament, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

Sessoms’ success during this game and throughout the season is one of the few bright spots to take away from this year’s Binghamton team.

“Every time I get a shot up, whether it’s off the wrong foot or something, I always think it’s going to go in,” Sessoms said. “I’m a real confident guy, especially when there’s a night like tonight, every shot I took I felt like it was going to go in.”

The presumptive AE Rookie of the Year is a solid building block for a Binghamton team looking to improve within its conference.

“I think the most comforting thing is that [we] have him for so long,” Dempsey said. “He’s special. He’s going to help us build a program, he’s going to help us get guys to come here to play with him, he’s going to help us put butts in the stands. It’s really exciting.”

Binghamton has just two regular season contests remaining. The team will travel to Maine before hosting Albany in its regular-season finale. Throughout Dempsey’s time as a head coach, Binghamton has yet to win more than five AE games, and Dempsey seems focused on exceeding that total in his seventh year with the program.

“We just really want to get refocused after losing tonight,” Dempsey said. “I’d really like to get to six conference wins … You try to continue to move forward, and you can’t get to six if you don’t get to five, so five is the one we’re after on Saturday.”

Tipoff against the Black Bears on Saturday, March 2 is set for 11 a.m. from the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine.