There are only so many ways to lose a basketball game. On Saturday night, the Binghamton University men’s basketball team found a new one, and for every fan and, more importantly, every player, this loss hurt more than most.
The Bearcats (6-16, 3-6 America East) stunningly blew a 22-point lead to the top team in the conference, Maine (14-7, 8-1 AE), to lose by a 77-74 score. After a strong 3-0 start to conference play, they added its sixth-consecutive loss to the standings despite appearing to have the game in hand in the first half.
“It’s very demoralizing, because we had them and we let them off the hook,” said senior forward Mahamoud Jabbi.
Binghamton used hot shooting to propel itself to a 39-17 lead with 7:10 left in the first half. That included a quick start from sophomore point guard Jimmy Gray who tallied an assist on each of the Bearcats’ first six baskets, and then scored the seventh to put the Bearcats up 15-6. Gray ended up having a career game with 10 points and 12 assists, which was the second-most assists in a game in the Bearcats’ Division I history. The record is 13, set in 2003 by Anthony Green. Gray had nine assists in the first half alone, which was already more than any Bearcat had notched in a single game all season.
“He’s come a long way,” said BU interim head coach Mark Macon. “He’s getting better, but he has to get much better … running the point, knowing when to take shots … being that lead guard out there. He’s been doing a great job for us.”
The Bearcats shot a sizzling 52.9 percent from the field and hit 9-of-17 from behind the arc en route to a 45-32 halftime lead despite playing without their leading scorer, senior forward Greer Wright, who was inactive for a second-consecutive game with an ankle injury.
But the Black Bears slowly kept chipping away at the lead throughout the second half. The Bearcats were up 57-43 at the 15:57 mark, but allowed Maine to go on a 9-0 run over three minutes to cut the lead to just five. In that time, the Bearcats allowed three offensive rebounds and had two of their shots blocked. Overall, Binghamton shot a dismal 34.3 percent in the second half.
“It wasn’t a matter of cooling off; I think we eased up on our defense,” Jabbi said of the Bearcats’ second-half struggles. “In the beginning we were really intense, contesting shots. We got a big lead and were content a little bit. They got a few easy buckets that gave them momentum.”
“I think we were just feeling it in the first half,” Gray said. “Shots were coming, we had good looks at it and I think we were forcing the issue in the second half. We should have looked inside more and played inside-out: looking in and then trying to get outside shots.”
The Black Bears also changed their own defensive scheme, moving away from man-to-man in favor of a zone defense to try to be more effective against the perimeter-oriented Bearcats.
“The zone slowed us up because we’re a perimeter shooting team,” Macon said. “When that happens, you have to go to the basket … You can’t just throw the ball around the perimeter because that’s what the zone is built for … It slowed us down, it hampered us.”
“We were hesitant; we wanted to look into the basket, but we relied on outside jump shots according to the first half,” Gray said. “[In] the first half, we were shooting [well], we were in a rhythm, we wanted to take lots of shots, so I think that was the problem in the second half.”
The Bearcats had an opportunity to tie the game in the final minute with the score 74-71, but Jabbi missed a 3-point shot and Maine sank its free throws to seal the deal and shock the hometown crowd of 3,868 fans.
“In the final minute, we had the play that we wanted,” Jabbi said. “Coach drew up a play, it was a quick-hitter, and he wanted to see if we could get the shot. Luckily I was wide open, and he told me if I was open to shoot the ball, and it just didn’t go in. But he had confidence in me to take the shot.”
“During the time, oh, that’s a good shot,” Macon said. “Because I’ve seen it enough, I’ve done it enough, I’ve seen guys do it enough, and it’s up to me to have confidence in those guys, to not be negative.”
Jabbi put up his fourth-consecutive double-double with 19 points, 10 boards and two blocks. Junior center Kyrie Sutton scored 15 points and grabbed five rebounds, while senior forward Moussa Camara found his shot with a 14-point performance, including 4-of-6 from downtown. Maine was led by guards Gerald McLemore and Raheem Singleton who tallied 23 and 17 points, respectively.
“What can I say?” Macon said. “The effort is there, but first you have to give applause to Maine. They never gave up, they never gave in, they just kept coming, kept coming. They were crashing those boards, and hit us over the head with it and pulled out a tough win.”
“All losses are bad,” Jabbi said. “But this was a game where we were in complete control from the start, and we took our foot off the pedal and they capitalized.”
A telling statistic was the differential in free-throw attempts, a margin that the Bearcats have struggled with before. This time, Maine shot 24 free throws and Binghamton had just four. This season, the Bearcats have attempted a total of 36 fewer free throws than their opponents and are making fewer than 70 percent of the attempts they do take.
“That’s something we need to improve on,” Gray said. “We gotta make free throws and we gotta get some to the basket, especially when both teams are in the penalty, each team is trying to go aggressively to the basket, so we have to use the opportunity to go to the bucket.”
The Bearcats will try to break their losing streak at University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Thursday. The team’s last victory came against the Retrievers back on Jan. 12. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. in Baltimore.
“When I finish my postgame speeches, it’s always about moving onto the next game,” Macon said. “This one is over; we move to UMBC. We have to continue to come out playing exactly how we’ve been playing the last two games … I always turn the page after the game is over, we always turn the page. We can’t get it back.”
“We don’t have time to hang our heads,” Jabbi said. “We just have to go and look at film, understand what we did wrong, what we did [well] and then try to learn from it. Hanging our heads would just lead to another loss, so we have to take the good from the game and just move forward.”