With 2:57 left to play in the second half, junior forward Willie Rodriguez looked down and rubbed his face with exasperation. Wearing a blue shirt, navy blue tie and gray slacks, the Binghamton men’s basketball team’s best offensive threat was sidelined in the Bearcats’ 77-61 loss to St. John’s on Monday night.
BU (1-1) was able to thrive without Rodriguez in its season-opening 68-62 win against Cornell. Against St. John’s, however, the Bearcats took a beating without him. Rodriguez, who was named to the America East (AE) Preseason All-Conference team, was kept from the floor in both games due to a lingering hamstring injury. He is considered day-to-day going forward.
Even with Rodriguez’s presence, the Bearcats may have had a hard time beating the Red Storm’s press. The high-energy defense of St. John’s forced turnovers and kept BU from driving to the basket. Rodriguez’s injury has given more playing time to junior forward Dusan Perovic, who has struggled defensively at times.
“They turned us over with their press at times,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey. “I thought we continued to fight back, even when they opened it up a little bit. We kept scratching and clawing but we never quit. I was pleased with the effort. The execution will get better as we get more reps and games under our belt.”
Entering halftime, St. John’s led by seven points. It wasn’t until the second half when the Red Storm opened up the flood gates. St. John’s shot a 50 percent clip from the floor in the second, including 58 percent from beyond the arc.
Redshirt sophomore guard J.C. Show had 12 points and five rebounds in 33 minutes, while senior guard Marlon Beck and freshman guard Fard Muhammad tallied nine points each.
“I thought we played really hard against them, and I thought we did a lot of good things ourselves,” Dempsey said. “There are some things that we can build on, but we’re definitely getting better.”
BU was never able to contain the Red Storm’s star freshmen guards — Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds. The duo combined for 44 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists. With 16:23 left in the second half, the duo led St. John’s on a 15-0 run that opened up the game.
“We turned it over too much, and during that run we had a hard time containing Ponds and LoVett, but those guys are future NBA players,” Dempsey said.
On Friday night against Cornell, Show scored 23 points in his Binghamton debut while Perovic added 14 points.
Show redshirted last season after transferring from Bucknell. He shot 8-for-13 from the field, adding five rebounds in 32 minutes.
“It feels good to win,” Dempsey said. “To get that first game of the season under your belt and to start out with a win, was something we haven’t be able to do and hopefully it will give us some momentum.”
BU struggled in the first half, shooting just 26 percent from the field, and trailed 27-24 going into halftime. The Bearcats, though, were able to recover in the second when they shot at a 56 percent clip.
In his first game back since missing the 2015-16 season to a torn labrum, redshirt junior guard Yosef Yacob tallied three points in just seven minutes on the court.
Last season, the Big Red defeated Binghamton, 76-59, largely off their guards’ stellar play from beyond the arc. The Bearcats, however, were able to contain Cornell’s perimeter this year, holding the Big Red to just a 13.8 percent 3-point shooting percentage.
“We did a great job covering up their 3-point shooters and forcing them into a lot of contested shots,” Dempsey said. “I thought our defense carried us and we found just enough offense in the second half.”
BU is set to face Central Connecticut State on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. from the Events Center in Vestal, New York.