STONY BROOK, N.Y. — The Binghamton men’s basketball team’s season may have come to a disappointing close on Wednesday night, but its future is bright.
The No. 6 Bearcats (6-26) and No. 3 Seawolves competed down to the wire in their quarterfinal matchup, hosted by Stony Brook (22-10) at Island FCU Arena. Though the Seawolves eventually captured the game, 62-57, it was by no means a sure thing coming.
Binghamton had the chance to tie the game at 58 with under a minute left. Freshman forward Willie Rodriguez kicked out to freshman guard Justin McFadden, who was left unguarded on the arc for an open 3. But for the third time in the second half, BU’s shot went in, and promptly rimmed back out.
That missed shot was just one opportunity, however. There were still 28 seconds remaining, and it was just a one-possession game in Stony Brook’s favor, 58-55.
“It didn’t go in, and it was ‘Okay, next play,’” Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey said, exposing a sentiment entirely coherent with Binghamton’s mindset this season. Misfortune strikes — a plenitude of misfortune, in BU’s case — and you deal with the cards you have left.
The Bearcats had rallied back from double-digit deficits twice already, so a three-point margin in the last minute wasn’t daunting. Binghamton kept piecing together looks and fouling, and with the Seawolves going 0 for 4 from the charity stripe directly preceding McFadden’s shot, it looked like the basket might be as merciless to its hosts as its visitors.
But Stony Brook’s two-time America East Player of the Year, Jameel Warney, and junior guard Carson Puriefoy broke the drought, erecting a 62-55 lead before sophomore guard Marlon Beck II hit a jumper to score the last points of the game. Even if freshman guard Romello Walker’s 3-point attempt went in at the last second, it wouldn’t have been enough.
That was quite a turnaround from the first half, which saw nine lead changes and ended with Binghamton holding a two-point lead, 25-23, heading into the locker room. The Bearcats were playing some of their most unforgiving defense of the season, something to which Warney has been particularly susceptible.
“I always struggle against Binghamton’s zone,” the 6-foot-8, 260-pound junior forward said. “I have to figure that out for next year.”
Warney, who leads the league in averaging 16.8 points per game this season, was contained to 11 on Wednesday. In the two teams’ contests through the regular season, he combined for an underwhelming 20 points.
Binghamton’s defense quelled more than just Warney’s production. While Stony Brook opened play hitting two treys in the first four minutes, they were stifled to 0 for 8 shooting from deep through the rest of the half. Overall, Stony Brook shot just 38 percent from the field in the half, due mostly to a stretch through which the hosts went 0 for 12.
Binghamton, on the other hand, was flaunting its development: The Bearcats outrebounded the conference’s leading rebounding team, 19-16, and outscored them in the paint, 14-10. Warney was limited to 1-of-4 shooting from the field with freshman center Bobby Ahearn and whoever else was closest applying heavy pressure every time he got the ball.
During the early second half, however, Binghamton’s shots wouldn’t fall in. Through a seven-minute stretch, Stony Brook went on a 14-0 run and built its first double-digit lead, 41-30, with 10:56 to go. Sophomore guard Yosef Yacob then nailed a clutch 3, Rodriguez and Walker scored back-to-back buckets two minutes later, and the deficit was back down to five.
“There were a couple of times that we were ready to get blown out of here and these guys just had such resolve,” Dempsey said of his team. “And they did it together. It really wasn’t anything that I did. They just kept fighting. They’ve been hungry. They’ve learned how to fight together. This team, they trust each other. And I think because they trust each other and they play hard, they give themselves a chance to win.”
Wednesday, that wasn’t the case. Binghamton hung tight and Stony Brook came up with a tough win to head to semifinals on Sunday, but for a Bearcat squad that believed in its potential, that was far from good enough.
“It’s going to stick with me,” Walker said. “I know it’s going to affect my offseason drastically. Because I don’t like this feeling, and I don’t want to feel this feeling again.”
Rodriguez quickly agreed.
“I definitely don’t want to feel this feeling again,” Rodriguez added. “So like [Walker] said, I’m going to do better in the offseason. Get better, get stronger, and then hopefully we don’t have to feel this feeling again.”
Given how well those two performed Wednesday night, that’s encouraging for Bearcat fans. Rodriguez scored a game-high 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the floor and also pulled down six boards. Walker followed up with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds. McFadden and Beck chipped in eight points each, with Beck adding four assists.
While Rodriguez and Walker were hard on themselves after the game, Dempsey spoke of the pride he felt in his team for how hard they played. Through their hardships, the Bearcats became a team, and that team showed promise.
“I feel like everything that could happen was happening to us and that kind of made us stronger,” Walker said. “I think that next year, since we fought through everything basically this year, we’re going to come back prepared for everything next year.”
“I know you look down on the stat sheet and you go ‘Oh jeez’ at that record, but where we are today, I’m really, really excited,” Dempsey said. “This isn’t a 6-26 team right now. This is a team that can compete with the top teams in this league, and they’re going to get a lot better. It’s going to be a lot of fun here over the next couple of years.”