The Binghamton men’s basketball team struggled early against a scrappy St. Francis squad on Saturday night. Despite their inconsistent play, the Bearcats (6-4) executed just enough to defeat the Red Flash (3-4) in an impressive 73-70 comeback win.
“It was just a great win,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey. “We didn’t particularly play well for a long stretch of the game. We’re winning these games because of who we are; we have some tough kids who made some big shots.”
BU opened the game strongly, grinding its way to a 25-16 lead with just over six minutes remaining in the first half. The Bearcats were able to get to the rim at will, either finishing in the paint or kicking the ball out to open shooters. Sophomore guard J.C. Show poured in 10 points and dished out two assists and BU seemed to be on its way to a sizable half-time advantage.
St. Francis, however, went on an improbable 18-0 run to go up, 34-25, at the half. The Red Flash deployed a lineup that featured four guards and attacked the basket relentlessly. The lineup gave the Bearcats difficulty, as Show and junior forward Bobby Ahearn found themselves in foul trouble, which forced Dempsey to change his rotation. In addition, sophomore guard Timmy Rose was battling the flu, which left BU thin around the perimeter to close out the first half.
“We got in some foul trouble with Bobby [Ahearn] and J.C. [Show]; Timmy [Rose] wasn’t feeling well,” Dempsey said. “I think [our struggle] was more circumstantial.”
In the second half, the Bearcats had a much harder time driving to the rim on offense and failed to keep the Red Flash outside of the paint, as St. Francis led by 15 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the contest. The Red Flash dominated in transition, outrunning the Bearcats down the court at times for easy layups. Dempsey countered his offensive struggles by using freshman guard Fard Muhammad and junior guard Yosef Yacob to help space the floor.
His move paid off, as Muhammad and Yacob knocked down four 3-pointers in just 16 combined minutes to keep BU in the game down the stretch. While not to the extent of Michael Jordan’s fabled performance, Rose overcame his illness and stepped up in crunch time, hitting a couple of 3-pointers and adding three assists. Ahearn also found his groove down the stretch, using nifty footwork in the post and flashing an array of moves to keep the offense balanced inside and out. Ahearn tallied 15 of his 19 points in the second half and carried the offense when others’ shots were not falling. He was named the America East Player of the Week for his performance.
Although several Bearcats stepped up when needed, BU still found itself trailing by four with 48 seconds to go. Show provided more heroics with a clutch three to cut the deficit to one.
The defining play of the game came when St. Francis sophomore guard Jamaal King was looking at his coach for direction. Yacob made an instinctive steal to gain possession before being fouled in transition. He hit both free throws to hand BU a two-point lead. On the other end, Ahearn drew a charge that sealed the game.
“It was a super second half, especially the last 12 minutes,” Dempsey said. “It took everything we had to get this win.”
For St. Francis, King finished the game with 22 points. Sophomore forward Josh Nebo recorded a double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 14 rebounds. Freshman guard Keith Braxton nearly had a double-double of his own, scoring 16 and adding nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Isaiah Blackmon rounded out the foursome, scoring 18 points.
“They have four guards who can take you off the dribble,” Dempsey said. “They’re very hard to match up against.”
BU is set to play Colgate on Wednesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. from Cotterell Court in Hamilton, New York.