There were under 30 seconds left to play in the second half. The Binghamton men’s basketball team and NJIT were deadlocked at 75 points. NJIT junior forward San Antonio Brinson had just missed a go-ahead 3-pointer, and a rebound by senior forward Pierre Sarr gave the Bearcats the opportunity for the final shot. There was no doubt as to who would take that shot.
“I basically told [head] coach [Tommy] Dempsey on the play before, if they were to miss the go-ahead shot, don’t call timeout,” said sophomore guard Sam Sessoms. “I wanted to end the game. I feel like it’s my team and so I had to step up.”
With under 20 seconds left to play, Sessoms kept the ball near midcourt to hold for the last shot of the game. Then, with under 10 to go, he struck, driving the ball down the lane and laying it up and in to give BU the lead with only 2.2 seconds to go. The Bearcats went on to win the contest 77-75, capping off a comeback victory in which they were down by as many as 16 points in the second half.
“It was a heck of a win, it really was,” Dempsey said. “For sure, Sam played a big-time game, but it was the contributions of everybody else that was just as significant. I thought we had really good contributions from our entire starting lineup.”
Sessoms took charge of the game for the Bearcats (2-3), contributing both offensively and defensively to the team’s effort. He garnered 33 points and 12 rebounds in the contest, his second straight double-double and the second of his career. The most important defensive contribution Sessoms made was a key block down low on senior guard Shyquan Gibbs with 31 seconds left to keep the game knotted at 75.
The other two Bearcats to score in double digits were freshman guard Brenton Mills and freshman guard Hakon Hjalmarsson, who had 17 and 10 points, respectively. Mills and Hjalmarsson each made some 3-pointers in the first half to keep the Bearcats within striking distance in the contest.
“I thought Brenton [Mills] did a good job giving us a spark throughout the game,” Sessoms said. “There were moments in the first half where they were about to blow the gates open on us, but Brenton [Mills] and [Hakon Hjalmarsson] [made] some [3-pointers]. I thought I did a good job finding them. I think it was a great team effort today.”
In the first half, the Bearcats had no answer for the scoring prowess of Brinson and junior guard Zach Cooks, who both scored the vast majority of the Highlanders’ points in the contest. NJIT (2-3 AE) converted 50 percent of its shots from the field in the period, resulting in 43 first-half points given up by the Bearcats. Binghamton was only down by eight points at the break, but similar lights-out shooting from Cooks early in the second half plunged the Bearcats into a 64-48 hole.
Then, the Bearcats’ defense started to click. NJIT reached the 64-point mark with 12.5 minutes to play, but the Highlanders scored only 11 points for the remainder of the game. During that span, Cooks scored just three points. A 12-0 run powered by Sessoms, Mills and Hjalmarsson brought the Bearcats right back into the game, setting up Sessoms’ heroics at the buzzer.
“I told our guys coming in here that it was going to be a very difficult road win to get, and that we were going to have to match their passion,” Dempsey said. “I didn’t think we did that early, but I did think we responded.”
The Bearcats’ win represents the second consecutive game in which BU came back from a double-digit deficit, as the team was down 15 points to Sacred Heart in its first win. Given this, Sessoms believes that the team has the resilience necessary to be successful down the road.
“Obviously I played well in the second half, but it was a great team effort,” Sessoms said. “Most importantly, it’s a young team, and that was a very gutty win. I would rather win like that than win by 20 points.”
The Bearcats’ next game is a home matchup against Army. Tipoff is slated for 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 23 from the Events Center in Vestal, New York.