West Hartford, CT (WBNG Binghamton)
Sophomore forward Mark Nwakamma scored 23 points and Hartford (8-6, 1-0 AE) held off visiting Binghamton (2-12, 0-1 AE) 71-68 in the America East opener for both teams Wednesday night from Chase Family Arena.
The Hawks didn’t hold their first lead until the second half and withstood a frantic final 10 seconds when the Bearcats drilled two three-pointers to keep the outcome in doubt.
The Bearcats shot a season-high 54 percent - including 62 percent in the second half - but Hartford forced 22 Binghamton turnovers and grabbed 16 offensive rebounds which led to the Hawks having 19 more shot attempts in the game.
The loss overshadowed a brilliant shooting performance from senior guard Jimmy Gray, who hit 7-of-8 shots to match his career-high of 24 points. He was 6-of-7 from three-point range – most makes in his career – and added 4-of-4 marksmanship from the line for his game-high total.
Hartford opened the second half with a 10-0 run to grab the lead for the first time and the Hawks held off BU down the stretch with free throws and several clutch three-pointers – the biggest coming from sophomore guard Wes Cole, whose only made shot was a huge three-pointer with 24 seconds left that pushed Hartford’s lead to 67-62. Prior to that, Binghamton senior guard Mike Horn hit a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left to cut the margin to two, 64-62.
After Cole’s three, BU missed a deep three with 13 seconds left and had to foul. Cole made a pair of ensuing free throws and Hartford seemed to have the win locked up. But Gray nailed a three-pointer with eight seconds left and after two Hartford misses from the line, junior guard Rayner Moquete hit a three with 4.6 seconds left. After an inbounds and foul with 2.7 seconds left, the officials met and reset the clock at 0.5 seconds and a pair of Hartford free throws closed out the scoring.
“Offensive rebounding and turnovers are the key stats,” head coach Tommy Dempsey said. “The numbers bear out that we played pretty good offensive basketball. I thought our shot selection was very good and we made some big shots down the stretch. But we didn’t secure some rebounds and were very loose with the ball. We had our chances and every time they made a run we got ourselves back in the game and gave ourselves a chance to win. I thought our bench played well and overall, it was one of our more competitive games on the road this year.”
The Bearcats got off to a quick start, thanks in part to cold shooting from the host Hawks, who misfired on seven of their first eight shots. Gray scored BU’s first five points and Binghamton led 12-2 six minutes into the contest. But Hartford responded with a 16-6 run that featured four three-pointers. The teams were knotted at 18-18 before the Bearcats scored six straight and took a 26-23 lead into intermission.
Hartford launched 23 three-point attempts in the opening 20 minutes and made just five. However, the Hawks grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and forced 11 BU turnovers, which led to 15 more shot attempts on the offensive end.
But the Hawks opened the second half on a tear, scoring 10 points in a 1:44 span to forge ahead 33-26. Nwakamma scored eight straight as Hartford’s press forced four BU turnovers in the short span. The Bearcats steadied themselves and tied the game at 41-41 with a 15-8 run that featured a pair of threes from Gray.
Moquete and freshman guard Jordan Reed added 13 points apiece. Moquete hit 4-of-8 field goals and Reed made 5-of-13 shots but came up short in his bid for a third straight double-double. He still grabbed a game-high seven boards. Reed entered the game leading the conference in rebounding (10.3) and was second in scoring (17.3). Reed ranks 17th in rebounding - the only player under 6-foot-5 among the top 140 rebounders across the country.
Binghamton hosts Albany Monday night at the Events Center - the first of two straight home games in a three-day span against longtime SUNY rivals. Stony Brook visits on Wednesday.
(Courtesy: BU Athletics)