The Binghamton Bearcats came to the home of the Hartford Hawks looking to break a 13-game losing streak. Hartford suited up looking to bounce back from losses against nationally ranked Notre Dame and Texas A&M. Someone was going to go into the locker room with their misery intact at the end of the night.
There's nothing more empowering than the passion of an underdog, and Binghamton came in ready to fight. Hartford knows that feeling all too well. Just a few years ago the Hawks started their season with a 0-13 record, not far off from Binghamton's 1-15 mark. They've been in the Bearcats' shoes and know how dangerous a team like that can be.
"We knew going into this game, this was going to be a hard opponent," Hartford head coach John Gallagher said.
Despite the challenge that a hungry team can provide, Hartford ultimately prevailed 69-59 to earn its first American East win of the season.
Hartford brought some of its shooting woes from the last game against the Aggies into Wednesday's game. Maybe it was jitters from being back into conference play, but Hartford was not playing their best. They were down 9-1 until Corban Wroe hit a three at the 14:33 mark. The effort in the first few minutes of play was not up to par and it showed on the scoreboard and the confidence of the Bearcats on the floor.
"You could tell that team was hungry to start. They want to win, so they came out more aggressive, more hungry." said Hartford senior Mark Nwakamma.
Sometimes emotions get the better of you in situations like this, especially with a younger team. Binghamton guard Romello Walker learned that the hard way, pushing Hartford's Taylor Dyson after a foul call. Things were brought under control before anything serious happened, but Walker received a technical foul.
Walker's third foul and the tension between the teams seemed rattled Binghamton, giving Hartford the chance to pull away to a 28-24 lead at the half.
Despite Binghamton's hardships, it was a close battle throughout the game, with multiple lead changes and ties.
"I was proud of our effort. I thought we showed up and we battled," Binghamton Head Coach Tommy Dempsey said.
Three Bearcats ended the game in double digits. Freshmen Willie Rodriguez scored 10 points and Romello Walker led the team with 17. Sophomore Marlon Beck II added 16 points in the loss.
Even with Hartford's lack of energy in the first half, there was a constant that kept Hartford going no matter what. Gallagher had nothing but praise for his senior leader Wroe.
"He's the heart and soul of this team right now," Gallagher said. "No one has had an effect on games like he has."
Wroe finished with 18 points, tied with Nwakamma for the top scorer, and grabbed six rebounds and two steals. Originally brought on as a purely defensive player, it's his talent on offense over the past few years that has people talking.
"Everybody thinks he's tough and can't shoot but now they can't believe he's tough and can shoot," Gallagher said.
Though the Binghamton Bearcats will head back home with another loss on their record, they have a lot going for them for the future. Dempsey has done great work with the program and even with their setbacks, has managed to keep a younger team in the running.
Not one to leave out a kind word for the opponent, Gallagher had a old prediction for their opposing team.
"I know coach Dempsey. I've known him a long time," Gallagher said. "Our league's lucky to have him; Binghamton's lucky to have him. As I said at the end of the radio show they'll be a championship team within a few years in our conference."