On Wednesday, the Binghamton men’s basketball team had hope. The team had sealed a come-from-behind, last-minute victory over UMBC, and Maine, its competition for the final America East (AE) playoff spot, had squandered a second-half lead to New Hampshire. But on Saturday, the two teams traded opponents, and the Bearcats’ hopes were squashed.
BU fell at New Hampshire 89-70 in its last regular season contest, sealing a last-place finish in the conference and officially eliminating the team from AE playoff contention.
The AE is in its third year of excluding the last-place team from the conference tournament, and for the second time in that three-year span, Binghamton (10-19, 4-12 AE) will be the team left out. The Bearcats’ elimination was sealed by the combination of their loss and Maine’s lopsided home win over UMBC (14-16, 7-8 AE). Had BU won, it still would have been alive.
Though the Bearcats began the game against New Hampshire (15-13, 8-7 AE) strongly, it did not last past the middle of the first half, when the Wildcats put their foot to the gas pedal. New Hampshire displayed an unyielding, balanced offense that was able to score both down low and from range. On the day, New Hampshire scored 38 points in the paint while hitting 12-of-26 3-pointers. BU had no answer for this in the first half, nor could it muster its own offense to keep pace, allowing UNH to ride a 24-4 run over the final eight-and-a-half minutes to a 40-22 halftime lead.
“They played really, really well,” said Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey. “They’re playing great basketball right now. They’re sharing the ball, and they have a lot of guys that are playing well. It’s a very hot team that we ran into today, and it’s disappointing to come up here and lose. I just think we ran into a buzz saw in that first half against a team that’s playing really good basketball.”
In the second half, sophomore guard Sam Sessoms stepped up for Binghamton, pouring on the points to try and bring his team back into the game. He went on to finish with a game-high 38 points, 30 of which came in the second half. Unfortunately for BU, none of his teammates provided him any meaningful help offensively. Excluding Sessoms, the Bearcats shot a combined 9-for-30 from the floor in the game. No BU player except Sessoms scored more than eight points, and only 18 of the team’s second-half points came from a player other than the sophomore guard.
On the other side of the ball, New Hampshire did not relent offensively, scoring 49 second-half points. The offensive potency kept the lead at its large margin, despite Sessoms picking up BU’s offense in the half. Even though the Bearcats only lost by 19, the UNH lead was as large as 31 points. The Wildcats were led in the game by junior guard Sean Sutherlin, who scored 20, and three other Wildcat players reached double figures. New Hampshire shot 54 percent from the floor in the game, and hit 46.2 percent of its shots from downtown.
“When you get down like that, there’s not a lot of room for error,” Dempsey said. “You gotta almost play a perfect half, and I thought we fought extremely hard. You’re trying to claw back and then one little run from them gives them the separation, and the hole was just too deep. I thought we competed for all 40 minutes, but the better team won the game today.”
Though missing out on the AE playoffs is a crushing blow to the team, Dempsey hopes that the young freshmen on his team, such as forward George Tinsley and guards Brenton Mills, Dan Petcash and Hakon Hjalmarsson, will continue to grow in the offseason and form a strong core around Sessoms, who will be entering his junior year.
“It’s hard to not be in the tournament, for sure,” Dempsey said. “It’s disappointing, embarrassing, for that matter, but the reality of it is we’re not in it. We have to regroup; we’ll regroup this week, and we do have a lot of young pieces, and certainly we have one of the best players around, so we’ll be back, but it’s disappointing to not be playing.”