Franz Lino/Staff Photographer Junior attack Tucker Nelson ranks 19th nationally in assists this season with 1.86 per game.

With America East play opening for the Binghamton men’s lacrosse team, Saturday’s matchup against Hartford presents an opportunity to turn the tides on a rough season so far.

Most recently against Air Force, Binghamton (2-5) watched its efforts pale away in the game’s waning minutes. The disappointment wasn’t a rarity — the same late-game slump has plagued BU three times this season. If the team wants to get off on the right foot in conference play, it will have to focus on executing a full game, especially keeping those last minutes competitive.

“We have a great group of tough guys — but we have to learn how to close out games,” BU head coach Scott Nelson said last week.

Despite its unimpressive record and its need for some offensive troubleshooting, Binghamton is not a lost cause. Individually, senior defender Shawn Needham sits seventh nationally in caused turnovers (2.29 per game). Senior attack Matt Springer ranks 13th in goals per game at 2.86 and, among active Division I players, ranks fourth in most goals scored in a career (114). Additionally, junior attack Tucker Nelson ranks 19th in the country in assists per game. He has recorded at least two points in all seven games this season. Junior goalie Max Schefler attained top-20 status in saves per game after Sunday’s match when he recorded a season-high 16 saves.

Collectively, the Bearcats are 13th in the nation in assists, doling out an average of seven per game. BU has also recorded a clearing percentage of .934, good for second in the country behind Ohio State (.975).

Binghamton’s competition early in America East play doesn’t seem to be too stiff. Hartford (4-5) was picked to finish a place behind the Bearcats in the Coaches’ Preseason Poll, despite having won the AE crown in 2011. The Hawks also currently ride a losing streak, having dropped their past two contests to No. 11 UMass Lowell and Holy Cross.

Leading Hartford’s offense are junior attack Kevin O’Shea and senior attack Andrew Cacchio. O’Shea has scored 23 goals and dished out 10 assists in nine games, while Cacchio lags just behind him with 17 goals on the season. Defensively, senior goalie Frank Piechota, who made all-conference first team last season, has so far recorded 84 saves on the season with a 9.30 GAA.

Last season, the Bearcats entered AE play with a winning percentage of .500. But they went on to drop four of five conference games, finishing with just five wins for the season. However, this year Binghamton has a different look — they have played close games against non-conference opponents including Cornell, Delaware, Siena, Air Force and Colgate, whose combined record is 30-12. The Bearcats should be properly prepared for its conference slate.

Tipoff against Hartford is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Al-Marzook Field in West Hartford, Conn.