After a 19-day layoff, the Binghamton men’s basketball team resumed play on the right foot in their final outing of the regular season. For the first time this season, the Bearcats swept a weekend series, rolling past NJIT in two games. The Bearcats defeated the Highlanders 76-63 on Saturday and 72-58 on Sunday. The Bearcats (4-13, 4-10 America East) will enter the AE playoffs next week as the No. 9 seed and take on Hartford in the first round.

“It was a really good team effort today,” said Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey. “Being that it was our first game after a long layoff, I was really happy to get the win.”

Sophomore guard Brenton Mills was kept out of action in both games due to COVID-19 protocols and contract tracing. Mills has been a major contributor for the Bearcats this season as their leading scorer, averaging 14.6 points per game and ranking fourth in the America East in scoring.

In Mills’ absence, the Bearcats still managed to keep up on the offensive end. They opened the game with a 14-2 lead over the Highlanders (7-11, 6-10 AE). Sophomore guard Tyler Bertram fueled Binghamton’s hot start, scoring eight points in the first five minutes. In the first half, the Bearcats were clicking on all cylinders as they shot 53.85 percent from the perimeter and limited NJIT to 20 percent shooting from 3-point range. After leading by as many as 18 points, Binghamton’s led NJIT 40-30 at halftime.

Binghamton scored seven unanswered points to start the second half, taking 17 points in the first four minutes. The Bearcats led for the remainder of the game by double digits. Sophomore forward Bryce Beamer and and sophomore guard Dan Petcash shined in Mill’s absence, scoring 12 and 14 points respectively. Bertram led the Bearcats in scoring with 16 points on four made 3-pointers.

“Our kids are continuing to fight and play hard,” Dempsey said. “We have to come with an edge tomorrow though. It’s hard to sweep a team.”

Although Binghamton led early in Sunday’s game, the Highlanders took the lead back midway through the first half. Both teams exchanged a series of leads throughout the half with Petcash leading the way for the Bearcats, scoring seven points and contributing two assists. By halftime, the Bearcats found themselves trailing 32-31.

BU dominated early in the second half as they went on an 8-0 run to take a 43-34 lead. Sophomore forward George Tinsley and Petcash were both crucial down the stretch as they each scored 16 points in Sunday’s game. Binghamton kept its foot on the pedal and extended its lead to as large as 16 points.

“It was a great weekend for us,” Dempsey said. “Our young guys are getting better and [senior center Thomas Bruce] being healthy makes a huge difference. Our kids are playing extremely hard and are gaining confidence. We are peaking at the right time of year and looking forward to March Madness.”

Prior to this weekend’s matchups, Bruce had only played in six games. This weekend, Bruce finished with eight points on Saturday and 12 points on Sunday. His primary abilities are on the defensive end, and he has contributed 16 blocks and 37 defensive rebounds for the Bearcats this season.

Although BU had a difficult 1-12 start to their season, the Bearcats have won three out of their last four games as they enter the playoffs. Despite the late push, Binghamton will head into the AE tournament seeded ninth, in last place among playoff teams.

Under this season’s revised playoff format, Binghamton will travel to Hartford, Connecticut to compete in a playoff pod next weekend. They will first take on the No. 4 seed Hartford in the first round on Saturday, and if Binghamton defeats the Hawks, they will play the winner of the No. 5 Albany and No. 8 NJIT matchup the next day.

Tipoff against Hartford in the first round of the playoffs is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27 at the Chase Family Arena in West Hartford, Connecticut.