Despite a career high in points for both junior forward Thomas Bruce (28) and sophomore guard Fard Muhammad (18), the Binghamton men’s basketball team fell to Cornell on Monday night, 94-84. In a contest that featured several considerable runs, the Big Red (1-1) closed out the night on a 24-8 stretch that quelled any BU (1-1) comeback efforts.
In their first road game of the season, the Bearcats found themselves down by 20 points at the end of the first half. Binghamton shot only 22 percent from long range (2-9) and a lackluster 30 percent from the charity stripe. Even though the team struggled early, Bruce kept BU from falling too far behind with 12 first period points and six boards.
As opposed to the Bearcats’ shooting woes, junior guard Matt Morgan appeared to cash in on every attempt. Morgan spearheaded the Big Red’s offense with 16 points while going perfect from the free throw line and close to 67 percent from downtown. Morgan propelled Cornell to a 17-5 run to conclude the half.
“[The Big Red] just played really good basketball and they had us chasing them around,” said BU head coach Tommy Dempsey. “We couldn’t get the stops that we needed to get and they made some really difficult shots, moved the ball well and overall played a great half.”
For both squads, offensive output was the main storyline as they committed only seven combined turnovers during the first 20 minutes of play. With the lack of steals, blocks and defensive intensity overall, it was clear that the contest was a shootout.
The typical offensive-minded heroes for Binghamton, however, did not orchestrate this shootout against Cornell.
“We played really consistent throughout the game, we didn’t make as many shots in the first half but we weren’t sloppy,” Dempsey said. “We only had seven turnovers for the game, we took care of the ball and got good shots in both halves.”
Instead of senior forward Willie Rodriguez, who played limited minutes due to back spasms, and junior guard J.C. Show, Bruce and Muhammad fueled the offense while combining for 40 points in the second period alone, a period that featured BU shooting a lights-out 61 percent from the field — tying its second-highest scoring output in a half during its Division I era. With the team facing a double-digit deficit to open the second half, Bruce knew that the team needed to pick up its pressure.
“We knew we were down a lot and we knew we needed to come out with some energy,” Bruce said. “We did that and it definitely helped us a lot, we just got to be able to play with that spark all throughout the game to help us win.”
Following an early bucket that pushed the score to 51-29 in favor of Cornell, the Bearcats rebounded with a commanding 23-3 run that cut the advantage to just two points. Over the six-minute stretch, five different players scored for BU, including eight points from Show. Despite the Binghamton resurgence, Cornell went on to respond with an extensive run of its own to ultimately secure a victory, 94-84.
“[Competing offensively only to see a run answered is] definitely hard because we’re working hard on D and they’re making these tough shots,” Bruce said. “It definitely makes it tougher to play like that so we just got to work better on D, work harder and play our game.”
Even though Binghamton has scored only 29 points in each of the first halves of the two contests thus far, it would be unfair to classify the squad as a “second-half team.” While it is natural for any team to start out a matchup slowly, the first period shooting woes may not develop into a trend. Fortunately for BU, however, their offense has clearly exploded in the second halves in the early season of both games as measured by 47 points against Morgan State and 55 points against Cornell.
Obviously in the absence of Rodriguez, a tough shooting night for Show and the first road game of the young season, a victory on Monday night was certainly arduous but not impossible.
“I was proud of our guys, we regrouped and came out, took a 22-point deficit and got it down to two,” Dempsey said. “We got ourselves back in the game and gave ourselves a chance to win, it just proved to be too big of an obstacle to climb, especially on the road.”
Following their first defeat of the season, Binghamton will continue its road trip facing-off with Atlantic 10 Conference member George Mason University. Tipoff from Fairfax, Virginia is expected at 7 p.m. on Thursday.