Win No. 2 couldn’t have come at a more crucial time.
The Binghamton University men’s basketball team — the same team that finished the season with an abysmal 1-28 mark and garnered the No. 9 seed heading into the America East postseason — knocked off University of Maryland, Baltimore County in overtime in Thursday’s play-in game of the conference’s annual championship tournament.
Regardless of the Retrievers’ record (UMBC finished the season with only four overall wins, two of which came against Binghamton), BU’s first-round triumph is definitely an upset.
Without leading scorer and sophomore guard Rob Mansell, who missed the game due to injury, the Bearcats found a way to advance to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.
Last season, again as the No. 9 seed in the tournament, the Bearcats topped UMBC 91-65 before eventually losing to the University of Vermont in the quarterfinals.
“Today was a day that these guys, not myself, did the job,” BU head coach Mark Macon said. “They played a good team, and hung in there when they could have put their heads down and walked away from here with a loss and not have been bothered by anyone other than myself.”
Macon told reporters in a postgame press conference that he would have gone crazy if his team lost. And they almost did.
With under four minutes remaining and Binghamton holding a 58-52 lead, UMBC pieced together a 6-0 run to tie the game. With 24 seconds left on the clock, freshman guard Chris Longoria took a 3-pointer that would have given the Bearcats the lead, but the shot was off and UMBC secured the rebound.
With 12 seconds remaining, the Retrievers called timeout, but when play resumed they were unable to execute a play. After two missed attempts, the game went to overtime.
In the extra period, UMBC scored within the first five seconds on an easy lay-in by sophomore Chase Plummer.
In 42 minutes, Plummer scored 17 points for UMBC, shooting 6-of-15 from the floor but only 4-of-10 from the free-throw line. UMBC junior Brian Neller also found offensive success, leading the Retrievers with 18 points after being held to just five in the schools’ previous meeting. But despite combining for 35 points, Macon said his team did a good job containing UMBC’s two top dogs.
“With a team like UMBC who has go-to guys, and a guy who gave us trouble last game in Plummer, we really had to dig in on him and we covered our game plan really well in covering him and Neller,” Macon said.
After Plummer’s early layup, Binghamton responded with an 11-3 run, anchored by four points from freshman Ben Dickinson.
With one minute remaining and BU ahead 69-63, UMBC went on a quick 4-0 spurt, but with only 34 seconds remaining were forced to foul the rest of the way.
Junior Jimmy Gray sank 3-of-4 crucial free throws, and with UMBC unable to capitalize on the offensive end, Binghamton went on to take the 73-67 win.
“You’ve got to make free throws,” Macon said. “When it got close, [Gray] put them in the basket.”
Dickinson led all scorers with 21 points and fell just one rebound shy of a double-double. Gray, despite shooting only 4-of-12 from the floor and 6-of-10 from the free-throw line, finished with 14.
“I think we rebounded really well, and we got a couple of offensive rebounds off of our misses that really kept us in the game,” Dickinson said. “We were able to make the free throws when we needed to.”
The No. 9-seeded Bearcats are now set to square off against No. 1 Stony Brook University at 12:05 p.m. on Saturday. The Seawolves topped BU in both of the teams’ two meetings this season, including a 34-point blowout win last month.
For the Bearcats, topping Stony Brook will be a long shot, but for a team that has already knocked off one of the conference’s top teams in Vermont, the game plan will remain the same.
“I think our defense and our intensity when we come out is going to be important and the main key to winning this next game,” Gray said. “Being that we’ve played them already, we’re familiar with what they do, so we just need to make the adjustment.”