The relationship between Tommy Dempsey and Jordan Reed has waxed and waned this year, but on Sunday, the head coach sent a message loud and clear to the America East.

“Let’s be honest, there’s not a guy in the league that is a better player than Jordan Reed right now,” Dempsey said after the Binghamton men’s basketball team’s 92-82 loss to Vermont. “What he’s been able to do late in this season and how we’ve been able to grow as a team through his growth as a player, nobody is playing better.”

In the middle of January, Dempsey would not have uttered even a backhanded compliment to his star player and the conference’s top rebounder. Reed’s energy and preparation levels did not meet Dempsey’s standards in Binghamton’s Jan. 15 loss at Stony Brook, and the second-year coach suspended the second-year player for one game as a consequence.

Even after the suspension, Reed needed a few games to acclimate back into the lineup. Then he embarked on a tear unmatched by any other America East player.

In Binghamton’s last seven games, Reed averaged 21 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.6 steals. He committed 3.7 turnovers per game, but with freshman forward Nick Madray sidelined and freshman guard Marlon Beck II mired in a shooting slump for a few outings, Binghamton needed the ball in Reed’s hands to remain competitive.

And the Bearcats competed at a level they hadn’t sustained in years.

They won three of those seven games, the only losses coming either by single digits or in overtime. In their previous 75 games, they had won just nine times.

Without Reed’s most dominant 12-minute stretch of his career, Binghamton would not have come back to force overtime at Hartford. The Bearcats can also thank Reed for the near upset of Vermont, the regular-season champion.

In those two games, the sophomore averaged 31.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, becoming the third Bearcat to notch a pair of 30-point games in a career. He shot 50 percent from the field and 3-point range and 87.5 percent from the foul line.

The conference rewarded him with the season’s final America East Player of the Week honors. Dempsey hopes more accolades will fall into Reed’s hands.

“One thing I just want to say is I hope people realize how good Jordan Reed is right now, how good he’s been playing,” Dempsey said, “because I know the league votes are coming out, and I’m worried that he’s not going to end up on the first team.”

Reed had a few duds — only one outside his mid-January doldrums — but the 6-foot-4 guard led the America East with 9.1 rebounds per game (conference play only). He also ranked third in points (15.4 ppg) and fourth in steals (1.5 spg). Only Hartford junior forward Mark Nwakamma posted a higher usage rate (31 percent) and offensive rating (101.1) than Reed’s 28.1 percent and 99.4.

The criteria for award winners are subjective — there’s no set formula. By pure statistics, Reed should be on the all-conference first team.

But several other America East players could find favor in coaches’ eyes.

UMass Lowell senior guard Akeem Williams topped the scoring chart (17.4 ppg in AE play) and carried his team to eight league wins in its inaugural Division I season. He should be a unanimous first teamer.

Vermont, which lived up to its preseason hype and snagged the regular-season title, will boast at least one first-teamer. Senior guard Sandro Carissimo and senior forwards Clancy Rugg and Brian Voelkel are the candidates out of Burlington.

Then there’s sophomore forward Jameel Warney and senior guards Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson, who led Stony Brook to a second-place finish. Warney’s a virtual lock, and viable arguments can be made for Coley and Jackson, whose numbers would be gaudier playing for almost any other America East team.

Nwakamma also can’t be overlooked after averaging 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in conference play and leading Hartford to the No. 3 seed.

Do the math — that’s at least eight players that coaches could consider first-teamers over Reed. There are five spots on the squad.

Reed earned all-conference third team honors as a freshman — “It drove me crazy,” Reed said in October. At least one coach thinks Reed deserves more in year two.

“I still think he’s the most talented player in this league,” Dempsey said, “and I’ll be really disappointed if he doesn’t end up on the first team.”

Pick up Friday’s issue of Pipe Dream for our all-conference awards and America East tournament preview.