Less than four and a half minutes in, the game looked like it was over. The Binghamton men’s basketball team trailed 15-0 to Sacred Heart at home. The Pioneers were making buckets with ease and their sophomore guard Koreem Ozier was seemingly scoring at will, tallying eight points in the opening run. But the Bearcats did not quit on the game, as they rallied back to take a 76-72 victory over the Pioneers on the day the team paid tribute to the late Calistus Anyichie. The win marks the team’s first of the season.
“I’m just proud — I’m proud of our guys,” said Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey. “The emotions were flowing. We felt it was important to win today, not only because we got off to the slow start in our first three road games, but just because of what today meant to us.”
Leading the Bearcats (1-3 America East) in their comeback was sophomore guard Sam Sessoms, who had his best game of the season. Sessoms earned his first career double-double in the contest, notching 27 points and 12 rebounds, along with six assists. Twenty of those points and eight of those rebounds came in the second half.
The other double-digit scorer for Binghamton was freshman forward George Tinsley, who also had a double-double in the game, his second straight. Tinsley garnered 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting and he was 5-for-9 from deep. Like Sessoms, he also grabbed 12 boards in the contest.
After Sacred Heart (0-3 Northeast Conference) took its 15-0 lead, the Bearcats finally got on the scoreboard with Tinsley’s 3-pointer, and that seemed to ignite their play. Sessoms, Tinsley and senior forward Pierre Sarr each hit a 3-pointer in the subsequent minutes to cut the lead to single digits by the midway point of the first half. At halftime, Sacred Heart was up by only one point.
“Our guys didn’t flinch,” Dempsey said. “We stayed together, we started making some plays, we started making some shots, we got some energy in the building, the crowd got behind us. From that point on, it was a pretty good performance by our team. I’m proud of the way they handled the whole situation with the Calistus tribute and then coming out and fighting like they did.”
In the second half, Sessoms became the primary producer for the Bearcats, going 8-for-16 from the floor in the period. The Pioneers abandoned the double-team that they put on Sessoms in the first half, which allowed him to find lanes and drive to the basket for lay-ins. The lead changed a couple of times in the half; at the 13:38 mark, the Bearcats took the lead and never gave it back.
Throughout the game, the Bearcats were able to capitalize off of turnovers while preventing turnovers on their end. Binghamton scored 24 points off 14 Sacred Heart turnovers, while the Pioneers scored only five points off six BU turnovers. The team also benefited from solid free-throw shooting in the closing minutes to seal the win.
In an emotional game, the Bearcats were able to come together as a team and win in honor of their deceased teammate, something which the Bearcats see as a sign of maturation and progress.
“I think we all came together as a group and a coaching staff,” Sessoms said. “We all knew how important this game was — that’s why when we were down [15-0], nobody really was panicking. I wasn’t panicking — I just knew that at the end of the day, the guys would want to come together, and throughout the flow of the game we stayed together. We got a young group, but I think we showed maturity … Overall, it was a great day and we definitely got better.”
Binghamton’s next contest is a road game at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Tipoff against NJIT is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 20 from the NJIT Wellness and Events Center in Newark, New Jersey.