Despite a sloppy first-half performance by the Binghamton men’s basketball team, the Bearcats rallied in the second half of play to challenge conference leaders Vermont. However, Binghamton failed to make up the 20-point deficit it dug itself in the opening half, allowing the Catamounts to pick up their 15th conference win in the 66-49 defeat.

“I’m happy with the way we battled back and didn’t fold,” said Binghamton head coach Levell Sanders. “We came out and played in the second half, but against a team like Vermont, that’s not enough.”

Binghamton (11-14, 8-8 America East [AE]) was energetic in the first five minutes of the matchup, but the electricity faded as Vermont (23-5, 15-1 AE) started to hit its shots and junior guard Jacob Falko hobbled off the court with a blow to his ankle, leaving BU’s top scorer in a boot for the remainder of the game.

“I’ve been in those situations before where your ‘leader goes down’, and it can happen,” Sanders said. “Your guys either do two things: we can rally or they’re looking around and seeing if he’ll come back. Those are things you can’t control. You gotta go out there and play. I don’t think it had an impact on them just taking the ball from us and pushing us around. That had nothing to do with it. Of course, you can miss a little bit of scoring from [Falko], but I don’t think that had much to do with how the game went, especially in the first half.”

The Bearcats’ offensive efforts came to a crawl as the Catamounts punished Binghamton’s mistakes, scoring 15 points off of turnovers to help build their 37-17 lead by halftime.

“First half, we were soft,” Sanders said. “We provided no response for Vermont. We looked scared … We were just giving them the basketball. We had 11 turnovers, they had 15 [first half] points off of turnovers. We let them push us around. They had 10 points from second-chance points. The first half, we looked like a [junior varsity] team out there.”

However, when the Bearcats retook the court after the halftime break, the energy in the Events Center began to resurface, and the hosts produced a 22-11 run to cut Vermont’s lead down to 11 points midway through the 11th minute of the second half.

“In the second half, I thought it was just about having some pride, going out there to compete,” Sanders said. “We battled back … When you get down by 20 against a team like Vermont, you gotta almost play perfect.”

At the heart of Binghamton’s second half performance were sophomore guard John McGriff and senior guard Christian Hinckson.

“It looked a little bit like when [Falko] was up in Vermont by himself, in terms of [McGriff being] the only guy who could really handle the ball and make plays,” Sanders said. “[McGriff] was out there by himself. I didn’t think he played bad. I think he had a solid game. He was defending, he was trying to break the defense down.”

By the end of the second half, McGriff had tallied 16 points and eight rebounds while Hinckson contributed an additional 11 points and six rebounds. However, as the Bearcats began to play more aggressively, both McGriff and junior forward Bryce Beamer fouled out of the game as the closing minutes began to fade.

“You have to be a little more aggressive, but then you become more susceptible to those drives and those fouls,” Sanders said. “We’re driving the same way they’re driving … We tried but it was just too big of a lead.”

Binghamton had posted 32 points in the second half compared to Vermont’s 29. The Bearcats also limited Vermont to just three points off turnovers compared to the 15 they allowed in the first half. The Catamounts are ranked first both offensively and defensively in the conference.

The Bearcats have just two games left in its regular season before the AE playoffs are set to begin. The first of the matchups is scheduled for this weekend against New Hampshire. On Wednesday night, the Wildcats slammed NJIT 83-55 away from home.

The UNH matchup is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 26. Tipoff is set for noon at the Lundholm Gymnasium in Durham, New Hampshire.