After throttling the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with an America East tournament record 17 3-pointers in its 91-65 win Thursday, the Binghamton University men’s basketball team seemed poised to keep the momentum going against AE regular-season conference champion University of Vermont. The Bearcats gave the Catamounts all they could handle Saturday before falling short, 57-46, ending their season.
“We fought valiantly, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said Binghamton head coach Mark Macon. “But I applaud [Vermont]. But I also applaud my guys. As I told them in the locker room, last year we were an unknown. This year we were a known. People planned for us. They understood what we brought to the table.”
In the quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 seeded Vermont, senior forward Greer Wright scored 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, while senior forward Moussa Camara contributed a game-high 15 points, including 3-for-7 from downtown. The story of the game was the rebounding differential as Vermont dominated the glass, 49-27.
“We missed a lot of layups,” Macon said. “We couldn’t rebound the ball; we weren’t hitting shots. It boils down to rebounding and missing shots and layups.”
Senior forward Mahamoud Jabbi tallied seven rebounds in 24 minutes before suffering an ankle injury that limited him the rest of the way. He left the game for good around the eight-minute mark. Despite the injury to Jabbi, Binghamton stayed within striking distance, down 44-41 with 7:38 left to play after Camara hit two free throws. However, the Bearcats were only able to score five points thereafter and let Vermont grab four offensive rebounds to their one, allowing UVM more shots at the basket as the game wound down.
“[Jabbi is] our inside presence as a rebounder,” Macon said. “The game was boiling down to a halt anyway. We were just missing shots and free throws and they were not. They were getting to the free throw line and hit a couple of big shots.”
Vermont’s defense held strong against a Bearcat attack that played almost flawlessly two nights before against UMBC. Led by AE Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Bald and their big frontline, the Catamounts prevented the Bearcats from playing inside-outside, forcing them into inefficient shots. Binghamton grabbed just seven offensive rebounds for the game. The Bearcats were able to compensate for shooting poorly in the first half by getting to the free-throw line 11 times, but they only got to the charity stripe six times in the second half. For the game, Binghamton shot 14-for-53 (26.4 percent) from the field, including 4-for-15 from 3-point range, a sharp contrast from their 3-point barrage 48 hours before.
Vermont shot 23-for-55 (41.8 percent) for the game. Senior forward Evan Fjeld, who was selected to the AE All-Conference first-team, had 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots. His freshman frontcourt counterpart, AE Rookie of the Year and conference rebounding leader Brian Voelkel, had 10 points and nine rebounds.
The Bearcats played their way into the quarterfinal by taking down UMBC in the tournament play-in game on Thursday. The ninth-seeded Bearcats took it to the eighth-seeded Retrievers from the start, grabbing a 23-6 lead within the first eight minutes of the game and never looking back. Binghamton had a 52-29 lead at halftime and was ahead the whole game. Camara buried a school-record eight 3-pointers and ended up with 30 points, five rebounds and three assists. Wright had perhaps his finest game as a Bearcat, finishing with 31 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
“I was just trying to make plays for the team,” Wright said. “Got a lot of balls inside. I was seeing Moussa off flare screens. When he gets an open look, it’s pretty much guaranteed he’ll make it.”
Binghamton shot 31-for-60 (51.7 percent) from the field overall, including 17-for-32 from 3-point range. With Camara getting open off the ball and Wright and Jabbi wreaking havoc inside and outside, the Bearcats got a lot of ball movement and had 20 assists on their 31 made field goals while committing just nine turnovers.
Macon had preached all season to play inside-out to get the jump shooters open. Binghamton did just that as Jabbi and Wright both manipulated UMBC’s defense into collapsing, which left the perimeter open. Wright also hit 5-for-10 from 3-point range.
“We take a lot of 3s,” Macon said. “You live by them, you die by them. We had the right guys getting the right shots. We were rebounding as well. We just shot the ball extremely well [Thursday]. There was pretty much no stopping these two guys [Wright and Camara].”
Jabbi, who was named to the AE All-Defensive first team and the All-Conference third team on Friday, played an effective floor game for BU. He was 2-for-3 from 3-point range, spreading the floor for Wright to drive or post up. He also had eight rebounds and a team-high seven assists.
“I just think that we controlled [UMBC],” Wright said. “It started with Mahamoud inside grabbing rebounds.”
The Bearcats also played tough defense against junior guard Chris De La Rosa, who averaged 15.5 points and a conference-high six assists per game this season. De La Rosa was held to three points, eight assists and three turnovers while shooting 1-for-10 from the field. Graduate student forward Justin Frye paced the Retrievers with 13 points, six rebounds and four assists.
With the loss to Vermont, Binghamton will look to prepare for next season. The Bearcats will see five seniors graduate: Jabbi, Camara, Wright, Chretien Lukusa and Preston Pena. Macon said he addressed the returning players as well as the graduating seniors following the loss.
“I told them I was proud of them and that we have more work to do,” he said. “I wish that we could have done better. We wanted to win a championship. We have to turn the page and start getting better prepared for next year. Those guys that are leaving, I just wish we could have done that much better.”