After stunning Stony Brook and advancing to the America East (AE) semifinals for the first time in 10 years, the short-lived magical run is over for the Binghamton men’s basketball team. The Bearcats (10-23, 6-12 AE) were blown out by top-seeded Vermont Tuesday night, 84-51, ending their 2018-19 season.
“We weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum that we created on Saturday night with our win over Stony Brook, but I think it had more to do with Vermont than it did us,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey. “We were locked in, we were ready, and they just came out and clicked on all cylinders.”
The Catamounts (26-6, 16-2 AE) have been the top team in the AE for the last several years. Entering this season as the favorite to capture the conference, the team finished the regular season in first place. While it was a team effort for UVM, two Catamounts performed especially well. Sophomore guard Stef Smith led the team with 28 points, including 23 in the first half. Junior forward Anthony Lamb, the AE player of the year, finished with 18.
“You gotta give them credit, they just played such a great first half,” Dempsey said. “Stef Smith came out of nowhere. I mean, he’s a good player but he hadn’t been playing well and he just exploded tonight. We had so much focus on Duncan and Lamb and you just really couldn’t afford those other guys to play as well as they played. He was the difference in the first half, he really blew it open.”
While the Catamounts excelled offensively throughout the game, defense secured their victory. Freshman guard Sam Sessoms, the AE rookie of the year, was held scoreless for the first time in his young career.
“Their defense is their calling card,” Dempsey said. “You know they’re gonna be great on that side of the ball and especially when you’re in the zone, you’re packing in on Lamb in the zone, you’re hoping that the don’t just spray it like they did from three.”
Senior forward Caleb Stewart was Binghamton’s lone double-digit scorer, finishing with 16 points.
In the game’s final minutes, Binghamton’s five seniors were on the court to close out the season. Among them, Stewart and graduate student guard J.C. Show left a lasting legacy on the program during their years as Bearcats.
“I wanted them to spend the end of their career on the court together,” Dempsey said. “They deserve that.”
The Bearcats can look ahead to next season with more optimism about the team’s future than in recent memory. Along with high expectations for Sessoms’ sophomore campaign, two presumptive starters from this year’s team are probable to return from medical redshirt seasons. Senior forward Thomas Bruce, a key defensive threat during his first three years with the team, is expected to return, while freshman guard Michael Besselink will make his Binghamton debut after suffering a season-ending injury last summer.
After staving off a 26-point comeback in a double-overtime semifinal against Hartford, UMBC will travel to Vermont for the AE championship in a rematch of last season’s title game. The Retrievers (21-12, 11-5 AE) swept the season series, handing the Catamounts their only two AE defeats of the season. UMBC took last year’s AE championship, eventually upsetting No. 1 Virginia in the NCAA tournament.
“Probably the two best teams worked their way to the final,” Dempsey said. “Stony Brook was right there with them, but we just played a great game Saturday night. We took a step in the right direction by being in this game tonight. Now we have to have a great offseason and try to get back into this game and put us into a position to win.”