Starting the season with a 1-5 record, opponents may have started to overlook the Binghamton University men’s basketball team.
But after this week’s performances, the Bearcats are now a serious threat.
After averaging fewer than 48 points through its first six games, BU has gotten into an offensive rhythm, scoring a total of 155 points against last week’s two opponents.
The Bearcats played host to Hofstra University Wednesday evening, but extended their month-long losing streak to six games, falling to the Pride in overtime by a score of 89-85.
But BU, motivated by its strongest performance of the 2010 campaign, took the court Saturday afternoon against Manhattan College, knocking off the Jaspers on the road in a dramatic 70-69 win.
Trailing 69-68, senior forward Greer Wright couldn’t capitalize on a chance to give the Bearcats the lead, missing a 3-point attempt with less than 10 seconds remaining. After immediately fouling to stop the clock, the Jaspers’ ensuing inbounds pass sailed out of bounds, giving the Bearcats possession with 7.1 seconds remaining.
In a designed play, sophomore guard Jimmy Gray found an open lane to the basket, nailing a layup to give Binghamton the victory, his first two points of the game.
“It was a misdirection play,” said interim head coach Mark Macon. “We had guys on the floor that could hit a shot. We flashed Moussa [Camara] to the ball, but gave Jimmy the ball, and he took it to the basket.”
Camara’s presence during the final play was key to creating an open shot. The senior forward, who entering the game was shooting less than 20 percent from 3-point range, came up huge for the Bearcats, scoring 17 points while shooting 5-for-8 from downtown.
“Moussa was due to hit shots,” Macon said. “He had been shooting rocks into the ocean, but they weren’t going in, even though he was standing in the ocean. He’s been practicing hard and working on his shot, I don’t want him to stop shooting.”
Senior forward Mahamoud Jabbi added another 20 for BU, hitting four 3-point shots for the Bearcats.
For the Bearcats, Saturday’s win marked their first since Nov. 13, a season-opening victory against Colgate University.
“We’re happy,” Macon said following the game. “It was a great win, it was something that we needed, but now we have to make winning a habit.”
Wright, with a team-leading 16 points per game, scored nine for the Bearcats. Shooting 3-for-4 from the free-throw line, Wright scored Binghamton’s only points from the stripe. The Bearcats failed to reach the line in the first half and only took five free throws overall. The Jaspers shot 85 percent from the free-throw line, netting 17 of 20.
While Saturday afternoon’s win was big for the Bearcats, Wednesday’s overtime loss to Hofstra was encouraging.
The Bearcats led Hofstra late, but surrendered a last-second layup to senior guard Charles Jenkins in regulation, tying the game at 75 and forcing an overtime period.
“We knew he was going to get the ball,” Gray said of the final play of regulation. “Coach wanted us to not give up any layups, but he got his way to the basket.”
Jenkins, last season’s Colonial Athletic Association’s Player of the Year, scored a career-high 40 points Wednesday evening. At the end of regulation, Hofstra head coach Mo Cassara knew exactly who was going to take the final shot.
“We tried to put the ball in Charles’ hands, and try and get a little of a switch or mismatch and have a couple of options to throw it back,” Cassara said. “But ultimately that’s what senior captain All-American-type kids do, they make plays down the stretch, and he did a terrific job for us tonight.”
The Pride outscored BU 14 to 10 in the overtime period, improving to 5-3 on the season. The Bearcats played hard, but ultimately Jenkins’ highlight reel performance was too much to overcome.
“He makes me looks like a smart coach doesn’t he?” Cassara said. “I think Charles really played terrific, in the second half he really got going and attacked the basket. I think the real change in the game, and the reason we had an opportunity to win, is we did a better job defensively. We limited their second chances, we got a lot of loose balls and we picked up our intensity. We were a little flat to start the game, but a lot of credit goes to Binghamton.”
The Bearcats were led by Wright, whose season-high 28 points were overshadowed in the loss. Wright also tallied seven assists for Binghamton, while pulling in five rebounds.
Macon was impressed by the performance, but knew Wright, who sat for only four minutes, was pretty tired heading into the overtime period.
“He did a great job, he did a heck of a job,” he said. “But at the end of the game, it showed that 40 minutes was just enough, and 45 was just a little too much. But that’s going back to the drawing board, and letting him know when to get his rest. When you’re at the free throw line, it’s time to get your rest.”
Despite the loss, the Bearcats remained positive after the game, stressing that hard work and good practices would earn them victories.
“We’ve been having good practices, really good practices,” Macon said. “But now we have to start putting in in-game situations, and make sure we’re putting in small things.”
Gray, whose season-high 18 points ranked second for Binghamton, helped keep the Bearcats competitive.
“Everybody was more comfortable,” he said following the game. “They were looking to score and help out everyone else on the team.”
Wright, who through the first month of the season has defended his unanimous preseason All-Conference selection, also stressed the importance of practicing hard.
“We felt that if we came out the way we were practicing, playing pressure defense and being aggressive and crashing the glass, the first chance we get to play against another team, if we could turn that over to the game, we have a good chance of winning,” he said.
“They’ve got good players and they’ve got a good team,” Cassara said of the Bearcats. “I watched their team on film, and I look at their stats, and I really think Binghamton is going to win some games. They were due to have a night where they were going to make some shots.”
While the final pieces didn’t come together for the Bearcats Wednesday evening, Saturday afternoon’s win was important. With their second victory under their belt, the Bearcats will look to continue their winning ways and are already looking forward.
“We don’t enjoy anything,” Macon jokes. “We turn the page.”
Binghamton is set to play host to the defending Ivy League champions Cornell University Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.