In the final minute of the Binghamton men’s basketball team’s game on Wednesday night, the Bearcats’ season was on the line against UMBC. Down by two points with the ball in a back-and-forth game, a loss would have put the Bearcats’ chances of qualifying for the America East (AE) postseason on life support, but the team found a way.
Senior forward Pierre Sarr received a pass from freshman forward George Tinsley, dribbled to the 3-point line and drained a shot from downtown to give Binghamton the lead. After gaining the one-point advantage, the Bearcats then defended it, with Tinsley getting a block on UMBC senior guard K. J. Jackson to seal a 76-74 victory.
Though it’s still up in the air, the key win greatly increases the Bearcats’ chances of making the playoffs.
“I think everybody had us dead and buried except us,” said Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey in an interview on ESPN+. “I’m just so proud of my players. We had one of the toughest losses I’ve experienced in a long time on Saturday. We needed a win tonight, and to rally like we did — it was a big program win for us and [it] showed a lot of character to come in here and win in this environment.”
Throughout the 40 minutes, the game took many twists and turns. In the first half, the Bearcats (10-18, 4-11 AE) were ahead by as many as seven points. In the second half, UMBC (14-15, 7-7 AE) was ahead by as many as eight points with under 13 minutes remaining. The Bearcats then put together the game’s last large run, an 11-0 run fueled by 3-pointers from Sarr and senior guard Richard Caldwell, Jr. that brought BU back into the game. From there, the team did not trail until right before Sarr’s game-winning shot.
Sophomore guard Sam Sessoms also put in key contributions in the second half. The majority of his points came in the first, but he converted a 3-pointer and a 3-point play down the stretch that kept BU a step ahead of UMBC with only minutes to go. Sessoms finished the night as the game’s leading scorer, with 24 points to go along with four rebounds and six assists.
“He’s a guy that you want in the foxhole with you, and tonight was a foxhole game,” Dempsey said. “He showed up and he got us off to a great start. Everybody thrives off the confidence that he provides, and he came ready to play and everybody else followed suit.”
The Bearcats did not get much scoring from their bench, but four of their five starters reached double figures in scoring. Behind Sessoms’ performance, Tinsley and Caldwell, Jr. each scored 16 points, while Sarr tallied 11. Each of those four players hit at least three shots from downtown, with the team as a whole going 14-for-33, or 42.4 percent, in that category, a major reason why the Bearcats pulled out the win.
The Retrievers, by contrast, only hit 26.9 percent of their 3-pointers. Another critical point of separation between the two teams was at the free-throw line, where BU’s efficient shooting proved pivotal. The Bearcats hit 92.3 percent of their free throws, missing only one, while UMBC only made 58.6 percent of its attempts from the charity stripe, missing 12.
Despite the poor performances from the line and from beyond the arc, two UMBC players managed to reach the 20-point mark. Jackson accounted for nearly a third of the Retrievers’ field goal attempts, tallying 20 points in the process, while junior forward Brandon Horvath led UMBC in scoring with 23, hitting 8-of-14 field goal attempts. Although that was enough to keep the game tight, UMBC still fell short.
In addition to the season-saving win, the Bearcats benefited from Maine’s loss to New Hampshire on Wednesday night. Maine (7-21, 3-11 AE) had a second-half lead against the Wildcats (14-13, 7-7 AE), but let it slip away, allowing BU to leapfrog them in the standings. Maine still controls its own destiny, but one loss in its final two games allows BU to clinch a playoff spot with a victory in its last regular season game. Two losses by Maine will send BU to the postseason no matter what.
Binghamton will play its final game of the regular season on the road against New Hampshire. Tipoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29 from Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, New Hampshire.