The Binghamton men’s basketball team entered Wednesday night’s matchup against NJIT in sole possession of second place in the America East (AE) conference standings, looking to maintain that position. Despite struggling to score early, the Bearcats took over the game and didn’t look back as they defeated the Highlanders with a score of 86-67, continuing to hold the second seed in the AE.
“Last game [against NJIT] we started out well and in the second half we kind of laid an egg,” said senior guard Jacob Falko. “This game we had a good first half and [in the] second half it carried over, and we played well down the stretch.”
Despite the home-court advantage, BU (12-13, 8-4 AE) could not find control of the contest early, as NJIT (7-18, 4-8 AE) quickly jumped out to an early advantage. The Highlanders held a 16-10 lead over the Bearcats nearly eight minutes into the game as the hosts struggled to overtake them. Binghamton kept the score close, however, never trailing by more than six and knotted the game back up after back-to-back threes from graduate student forward Miles Gibson and Falko, respectively. On the following possession, senior guard Dan Petcash drilled his own from beyond the arc and earned BU its first lead of the contest at the 10-minute mark.
“We came out and we were kinda flat,” said Binghamton head coach Levell Sanders. “It seems like it takes us a little bit to run up and down and catch that second wind. We gotta come out with a better sense of urgency from the start … We gotta get better on our starts.”
BU could only grow its advantage to five points as NJIT had an answer to every attempt to pull away. The teams went back and forth over the following five minutes until three unanswered buckets from the hosts allowed them to take a double-digit lead at 36-26. The run only grew from there as back-to-back baskets from Gibson capped off a 10-1 scoring output from the Bearcats. The Highlanders failed to put a significant dent in their deficit as the contest entered the break 42-33 in the Bearcats’ favor.
“I love the home crowd, that’s giving us energy,” Sanders said. “The players feed off of it. This is the time of year you wanna be playing your best basketball … Coming out today and being able to share the ball the way that we did is one of the things that we talk about. Part of it is just being able to play together consistently on both sides of the ball.”
Both sides got off to a hot start in the second half, each adding to their totals early. Although, an and-one basket from junior guard Armon Harried and another 3-pointer later from Falko kept the Bearcats up by double-digits. Over the following five minutes, the Bearcats’ lead never dropped below eight points as they began to pull away from the Highlanders. Falko then assisted on two straight baskets and grew the Bearcat advantage to 14 with just eight minutes remaining.
“I loved how we shared the ball,” Sanders said. “It started with [Falko]. Last time we played [NJIT] I think we had eight assists … We gotta make the passes, and I thought we did a good job of that today. I don’t remember seeing that kinda number of assists for us in a long time. We gotta keep that up.”
Binghamton continued to pull away in the final stretch of play as Petcash drilled a pair of 3-pointers to take a 19-point lead. The Bearcats led by as many as 21 points during the closing minutes and finished the contest with an 86-67 win over NJIT.
“Guys just did a really good job of valuing the ball and not turning it over,” Sanders said. “I like the way we were sharing the ball and looking for each other. Finding [Gibson] in the middle of the lane for a lot of those pull-up jumpers that he’s really good at.”
Gibson and Falko were the pair of scoring leaders for the hosts and posted 21 and 17, respectively. Falko also dished out nine assists and Gibson grabbed seven rebounds. BU out-rebounded the Highlanders 44-29 and out-assisted them 22-4. Additionally, the hosts shot 44.4 percent from three while holding the visitors to just 17.6 percent from beyond the arc.
“These guys are in the gym shooting,” Sanders said. “I always tell them the numbers don’t lie. They’ve been working, getting shots up and the main thing is when we take good [shots].”
Binghamton will hit the road for its next game against UMass Lowell on Saturday, Feb. 18. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Costello Athletic Center in Lowell, Massachusetts.