Franz Lino/Photo Editor Behind his defensive staunchness, freshman center Bobby Ahearn has seen his offensive production balloon to 6.9 points per game on a team-high 56.7 percent shooting clip from the field.

Bobby Ahearn may have come onto the Binghamton men’s basketball team this season as a gritty defensive specialist, but somewhere along the line he developed into “Bobby Buckets.”

It all started out rather inconspicuously. Ahearn, a 6-foot-6 forward-turned-center, was playing behind 6-foot-9 big-men Nick Madray and Dusan Perovic. Ahearn’s minutes were to be few, coming in off the rotation to keep the defensive intensity up while some of the other players rested for a few minutes.

The story from there is well known at this point: The frontcourt went down with injuries midseason, and Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey needed his freshmen to step up.

Ahearn was one of those, and he embraced the role thrust upon him as well as he could.

“I think I was ready, in a sense,” Ahearn said. “I watched them play through practice, and I was doing the things that they were doing, so I just needed to get more mentally prepared, and I think I transitioned right.”

Seeing an increase in his minutes through conference play and gaining a role in the starting lineup, Ahearn quickly integrated. Still primarily a defender, Ahearn posts up and boxes out, crashes the glass on both ends of the court, absorbs charges and heads to the line.

“You’re kind of the last line of defense, so you want to make sure that you don’t give up any layups,” Ahearn said of playing center. “I mean, I’m not a 6-foot-10 or 7-foot center, so I can’t block a whole lot of shots. The best way I can defend the basket is take charges.”

To the mire of defensive players everywhere, though, it’s difficult to measure one’s impact. But for Ahearn, his blossoming scoring impact may be more indicative of his defensive prowess than his team-high eight foul outs, a number he shares with freshman forward Justin McFadden.

“Defense has always been a focal point for me just because I think my offense feeds off my defense,” Ahearn said. “With every team, no matter if it’s individually or as a team, if you play good defense, it’ll transition to a positive offense, so you get good outcomes for that.”

Behind Ahearn and McFadden, that’s been the case. When the Bearcats have been able to piece together runs and get their offensive cylinders clicking, it’s when the defense is able to force turnovers out of opponents and stifle them to poor shooting on contested opportunities.

Ahearn started off playing right on the block, scoring points with quick layups under the rim when his team broke through the defensive line and got him the ball. But from the early season, Ahearn has extended his jumper, magnifying his production along with it.

Averaging 6.9 points per game in conference play on a team-best 54.7 percent shooting clip from the field, Ahearn has actually racked up the fourth-highest number of points on the team in America East play. The last man on defense, he was also the last man on offense, being the guy to pass the ball to for a layup when the clock was winding down. Ahearn developed into not only a reliable scorer, but sometimes even a prolific one.

Hence Bobby Buckets.

“One game — I think it was Buffalo — but I hit a few jumpers and someone in the crowd started chanting it and then it kind of caught on after that,” Ahearn said. “I kind of laughed it off at first, figured it would be like a one-time thing, but now it kind of stuck.”

Against Buffalo, Ahearn scored in double-digits for the first of seven times this season. He poured in 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field while pulling down six boards.

That was just one case, and since then, the freshman — who has basketball DNA, being the nephew of former NBA player and coach Vinny Del Negro — has only grown more aggressive and more dominant. From a guy who shot 3s in high school and is working on his arc now to incorporate into his arsenal, we can expect a lot going forward.