Urgency. The word was mentioned seven times at the press conference that took place prior to the Binghamton men’s basketball team’s first practice Wednesday afternoon. It’s a feeling that permeates the program, which failed to advance past the quarterfinals of the America East (AE) tournament for the seventh consecutive time last year.
The Bearcats, led by fifth-year head coach Tommy Dempsey, recognize the imperative nature of this season.
“It’s time to go,” Dempsey said. “We all know it. We’re well aware that this is a year where we expect to turn the corner.”
Turning the corner, however, has been Dempsey’s refrain for all seasons in recent memory. It’s an ambition that has remained unrealized during this period, as BU hasn’t won more than 30 percent of its games since the 2009-10 season. Last season, Binghamton won just five of its 16 conference games and finished sixth of nine teams in the league.
One of the Bearcats’ main struggles last season was developing a consistent offensive threat, especially when shooting from the field. In 2015-16, BU ranked 339th out of 346 Divison I teams in field-goal percentage, hitting just 39 percent of shots from the floor.
“We have to shoot the ball better,” Dempsey said. “We have not been able to score the ball consistently from the perimeter and scoring the ball in general has caused us some issues.”
BU’s glaring offensive deficiency was apparent in conference play. Binghamton ranked last in scoring offense, averaging a full 10 points lower per game — 60.9 points — than the next-best AE team.
Dempsey believes that several key additions will help the Bearcats’ offense heading into the 2016-17 season.
BU’s biggest recruit by far is freshman guard Fard Muhammad, a prep star at powerhouse Montverde Academy where he made 41 percent of shots from beyond the arc. He can be used as a lead guard or off-the-ball for the Bearcats this season.
Redshirt sophomore guard J.C. Show, who sat out last season after transferring from Bucknell, will also be a threat for Binghamton in the backcourt. At Bucknell, Show hit 36.6 percent from the 3-point range.
Binghamton’s greatest advantage is the fact that it returns nearly its entire roster. With the exception of sophomore guard Romello Walker, who transferred to Midwestern State, all of last season’s squad will be back in uniform for the Bearcats. This includes a large junior class that saw significant time as underclassmen.
“I think there’s more urgency now as guys start to get older,” Dempsey said. “It’s one thing when you’re a freshman or a sophomore and you feel like you have time. Some of these guys are running out of time. I can sense the urgency in the way we’ve prepared for the start of the season.”
The Bearcats’ urgency is evident in practice, where battle wounds are the rule rather than the exception.
“After every practice, everyone’s banged up — whether it’s scratches, bumping knees, elbows to the ribs,” said junior forward Bobby Ahearn. “It shows toughness in practice; guys are going hard.”
Other key returners for the Bearcats are junior forward Willie Rodriguez and senior guard Marlon Beck. Rodriguez averaged 15.1 points per game, attacking the paint and finding paths to the rim. Beck, one of just two seniors on the team, has been a mainstay in the backcourt, starting 28 of Binghamton’s 30 games in 2015-16.
“My confidence level in this group is really high,” Dempsey said. “I think we have a lot of key ingredients. I think we’re more than ready to get started.”