With its last game on the line, Binghamton men’s basketball head coach Tommy Dempsey said he’d give anything to have another month with his team this season.
Binghamton, which was projected to finish fourth in the America East, wields a 5-24 regular-season record. The team is second-to-last in scoring offense, averaging 57.1 points per game. And it’s dead-last in field-goal percentage, converting just 39.4 percent of its attempts. From deep, its stats are even more dismal — the Bearcats have taken the fifth most shots from beyond the arc, but have hit an underwhelming 30 percent of them, good — again — for last.
So what would possess Dempsey to want to keep this train rolling?
Put it in perspective: Four of BU’s five wins on the season came in conference play, through which the team has accrued a 4-11 record. The Bearcats knocked off second-place Vermont, 57-55, at home last Wednesday. They’ve brought most games in the past six weeks down to the wire behind second-half rallies.
Basically, with a team as young as Binghamton’s, Dempsey has seen his players develop and gel, and they’re only on the incline from here.
“We have a resiliency that I like, and our defense has been good enough to give us a chance to win,” Dempsey said. “The nights where we can mix in some 3s, that’s helped, but when you look at some of the numbers that attribute to winning points in the paint right now, even with some of the best teams in the league we’re right there. Rebounding, we’re right there.”
Starting four freshmen and a sophomore, time and growth have seen BU take better care of the ball in conference play, through which the Bearcats are averaging four fewer turnovers per game compared with their non-conference schedule. They have established themselves as a tough team to beat in transition, and they’re a force in the paint, where teams have to defend against BU’s penetrating dribble drive.
Freshmen forwards Bobby Ahearn and Willie Rodriguez are especially potent under the rim. Ahearn is shooting a team-best 53.6 percent from the floor, mostly in the paint, although he has extended his jumper through the season. When Rodriguez is aggressive, he charges into the lane in high traffic and utilizes his arsenal of low-post moves for production.
As far as shooting 3s goes, sophomore guards Marlon Beck II and Yosef Yacob have been able to sink a clutch one now and again, and both have had torrid 3-point shooting nights, but Binghamton has been largely inconsistent with production from deep.
Good news for BU is that sophomore forward Nick Madray — last year’s leader in 3-point scoring — may be returning. Dempsey said that Madray has been fully participating in practices, but that the 6-foot-9 sharpshooter didn’t look entirely comfortable going the full span of the court. So depending on his progress through this week, fans might see him on the floor on Saturday, the first time since his fall on Dec. 20. That was the same game he poured in 20 points on a 69.2 percent shooting clip from the field against St. Bonaventure.
Binghamton has just one game remaining in its regular season, however, so any additional development will have to happen quickly. The Bearcats are set to host UMBC, eighth in the AE, on Saturday. A win would do nothing for their conference standings, but it would allow the Bearcats to enter the AE Tournament the following Wednesday with a bit of momentum.
Last time against UMBC (4-24, 2-13 AE), BU saw one of its most holistic offensive productions en route to its third win of the season, 68-56. Six Bearcats scored eight or more points, with none contributing more than 15.
The Retrievers had problems of their own that game. 2013-14 AE Rookie of the Year Rodney Elliott sustained a season-ending injury in UMBC’s second game of the season and graduate transfer guard Wayne Sparrow, who was averaging a team-high 13.8 points per game, was announced ineligible for the rest of the season earlier that day.
“[The Retrievers have] been shorthanded, they’ve had a lot of injuries, they’ve been in a similar situation to us throughout the course of the year,” Dempsey said. “But they’re healthier now than they were the first time we played them, and I think they’ll put a better starting unit out there than they did the first time we played in Maryland.”
Part of that comes from sophomore Will Darley, who returned from injury and was injected back into the starting lineup on Feb. 14. Through five games, the 6-foot-8 guard is averaging 8.8 points. Redshirt junior forward Cody Joyce has seen a spike in his production, averaging 16.1 points per game in conference play and shooting 51.9 percent from the field. On the season, he’s shooting a 13.3 percent clip, good for fifth in the AE. He likewise ranks seventh in rebounding, with 5.7 boards per game.
Having lost to last-place Maine on Feb. 7, Binghamton won’t take any opponent for granted. But the Bearcats have one last opportunity to get a win in front of their home crowd in 2014-15, as well as a shot to end the season winning two of three.
Tip-off against UMBC is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Events Center in Vestal, New York.