As the Binghamton men’s basketball team looks to avoid a last-place finish and secure a top-eight position to reach the playoffs, the team took on Maine in a must-win game on Saturday afternoon at the Events Center. After losing the teams’ inaugural meeting earlier this season, the Bearcats were faced with falling a game behind the Black Bears and losing the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Falling into an 18-point deficit in the second half, BU did not rise to the challenge. The Bearcats were defeated by Maine 82-75, and now sit alone in last place in the league.
“We’re in a tough spot now,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey. “It was a game that we kinda needed. We didn’t get it, so now we have to fight our way out of the hole. We have three of our next four at home, so we can’t give in. We gotta turn the page, get ready, try to beat Stony Brook in here on Wednesday night.”
As the Bearcats (8-15, 2-8 America East) dropped their fourth-consecutive game, Maine (7-17, 3-7 AE) picked up just its second road win of the season, now holding a 2-12 record outside of Bangor, Maine. Time after time, Maine’s senior forward Andrew Fleming was a force for the Black Bears, dunking several times in the game and finishing with 23 points.
“[Fleming is] bigger, stronger, [an] all-league player,” Dempsey said. “We forced him into eight turnovers. I thought our doubles were effective on him, but he’s a man in there.”
Fleming was joined by redshirt junior forward Nedeljko Prijovic and senior guard Sergio El Darwich in scoring more than 20 points. The three accounted for 69 of the Black Bears’ 82 points.
Despite the dominant run by Maine to start the second half, the game was closely contested throughout the first period. The teams traded buckets on both sides of the court in the first half and the game featured nine ties and nine lead changes. With just over a minute left in the half and the score tied at 33, Prijovic scored to give Maine a two-point lead heading into the locker room.
A dunk by senior guard Richard Caldwell, Jr. and a 3-pointer from freshman forward George Tinsley gave BU a 38-37 lead early in the second half, but Maine’s imminent 18-point run all but put the game away for the Black Bears.
“The early part of the second half where they came out and caught fire, I thought they made some really tough shots in that stretch,” Dempsey said. “Prijovic in particular came out and hit three in a row there. We had some good looks on the other end that didn’t go … They really played well early in that second half, [then] we were cold, and then they opened up the lead and then we had to fight our way back from there.”
The Bearcats eventually stopped the bleeding with a late push and were able to make it as close as a five-point game with 25 seconds to go, but Maine held on to earn a critical victory.
“We have [a] young group and we have to grow,” Dempsey said. “Nobody really loves hearing that, but sometimes it’s the reality. We have a lot of freshmen out there, our best player’s a sophomore and we’re struggling. So I think, mentally, we’ve lost some confidence. Although, I thought today we played with good confidence, after the last couple of performances where we didn’t play well. I thought we came out today ready to go, and I thought we played with confidence, and it just didn’t go our way.”
Caldwell was one of the few bright spots for BU on the day, scoring a career-high 20 points, and both Tinsley and sophomore guard Sam Sessoms earned double-doubles.
Next up for Binghamton is a rematch against the last team it defeated, Stony Brook. The Bearcats have won consecutive games against the second-place Seawolves (16-9, 7-3 AE), including last season’s quarterfinal playoff matchup. Both of those games were played on Long Island, so this marks the first time BU will host Stony Brook this season.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 12 at the Events Center in Vestal, New York.