As senior forward Willie Rodriguez approached the charity stripe with an opportunity to ice the game, the Events Center crowd rose to their feet and applauded as the Binghamton men’s basketball team secured a 71-66 win over Army. The Bearcats (6-4) secured their fifth straight victory for the first time since the 2008-09 season, a campaign in which BU reached the NCAA Tournament.
“For now, to actually start winning like this is a great feeling for all of us,” said junior guard Timmy Rose.
Entering the contest, BU found itself down in the all-time series with Army, 8-2. The Black Knights (5-3) came into the night on a six-game winning streak against Binghamton with 16 points as the average margin of victory in those matches.
Not deterred by the lack of historical success, Binghamton raced out to an early 8-0 lead to give the Black Knights a quick deficit. Despite battling through a strong full-court press, BU was able to string together several jumpers and convert easy buckets inside. BU head coach Tommy Dempsey didn’t take credit for the team’s fast start; rather, he suggested that the team was simply ready to play and ready to win.
Although the Bearcats’ offense began to stagnate as Army’s full-court pressure forced BU into deep shot-clocks, junior forward Thomas Bruce kept the Bearcats in the game with his arsenal of post-moves and shot-blocking ability. Bruce set a career-high of five blocks with 2:55 remaining in the first half alone.
“I think that five blocks at halftime really sends a message,” Dempsey said. “It’s not just the blocks — it psychologically affects the game when you have a guy in the middle like that. It builds the confidence of our perimeter defenders because they know their job now is to not give up threes and [Bruce] can take care of the twos.”
Even with the early advantage, BU struggled to create a wide margin while the Black Knights fought their way back with sharp 3-point shooting (71 percent) and forcing eight Binghamton turnovers in the first half. At the break, the Bearcats held on to a small 38-34 advantage.
Seeking to build on its lead, Binghamton began the second period with a 6-0 stretch. Junior guard J.C. Show set the tone for the half, pump faking from the corner and eluding his defender to hit a pull-up jumper from long range. Army responded, however, through hard-nosed defense while capitalizing on points off turnovers.
“Getting it inbounds was really difficult,” Rose said. “They’re a great pressing team, they’re well coached and I was cramping up a lot of the game.”
As the end of the showdown neared, the Bearcats struggled to inbound and bring the ball up court. But undeterred by the relentless Army defense, the Bearcats knocked free throws down the stretch and secured a statement-making victory.
“It took a full 40 minutes to be that team defensively, and we were up to the task,” Dempsey said. “We weren’t perfect, especially on the offensive end, but we were very connected as a group defensively, guarding that 3-point line hard.”
Although this contest was not a game of long runs, BU exemplified its ability to close out tight matches against tough opponents. It held an above .500 team that was averaging 83 points with four players in double-figure scoring to just 66 points.
The two main storylines one could take away from this game was Binghamton’s proven success in front of its home crowd and when it crashes the glass effectively. BU is now 6-0 when outrebounding opponents (37-30 against Army) and it improved its home record to 4-0.
“We just had to stay mentally tough and focused throughout the end of the game,” Show said. “The more times we’re able to close games out and finish on the right end of the scoreboard is going to give us more confidence to do it in future games.”
Seeking to earn its sixth consecutive victory and seventh win overall, Binghamton will hit the hardwood again on Saturday afternoon when it takes on Loyola. Tipoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. from Baltimore, Maryland.