Romello Walker sat in the post-game press conference, his eyes a light shade of red. Binghamton’s season had just ended in a 62-57 loss to Stony Brook in the quarterfinals of the America East Playoffs. But the feeling consuming the freshman wasn’t sadness.
“My feeling is, my belly is empty. I’m hungry,” he said, eliciting a few laughs but remaining completely stone-faced.
Walker may have been literally craving nourishment, but he was speaking figuratively, as he and his teammates looked hungry all throughout Wednesday’s game. For much of the night, the sixth-seeded Bearcats (6-26) hung right there with the third-seeded Seawolves (22-10). At no point did they look overmatched, and it makes them excited for next season.
“I feel really good about where we are right now, heading into the offseason and into next season,” Binghamton men’s basketball head coach Tommy Dempsey said. “I feel like we’ve really grown throughout the year and I can’t wait to get back on the court with these guys.”
Despite falling behind by double-digits twice during the second half, Binghamton fought back and had an opportunity to tie the game in the final minute. Trailing 58-55 with 28 seconds left, Willie Rodriguez drove down the lane and found Justin McFadden wide open on the left wing. His stroke was pure, and the ball went in just enough for a split-second to make the crowd of 3,289 at Island FCU Arena hold its breath, but then it rimmed out.
“I thought it was going in. When I kicked it out and saw him wide open I got excited, I really thought it was going in and he would tie the game up,” Rodriguez said.
The Bearcats played very well on defense, holding the Seawolves to 30.8 percent from the field in the first half. Their 2-3 zone stifled Stony Brook and held America East Player of the Year to 11 points. Rodriguez finished with a game-high 19 points and Walker added 10 points and eight rebounds. But while all these stats are impressive, they mean nothing to Binghamton because the game ended with a loss.
“This is going to stick with me, I know it’s going to affect my offseason drastically because I don’t like this feeling,” Walker said. “I don’t want to feel this feeling again.”
Binghamton has had to suffer through a lot this season. Star junior forward Jordan Reed unexpectedly left the team early in the year. Freshman Dusan Perovic, who showed a lot of potential and emerged as the team’s leading scorer, was lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL in January. Sophomore guard Nick Madray hasn’t played since December after suffering a severe ankle sprain. But through it all, the Bearcats feel they’ve came out stronger.
“There were a lot of ups and downs, but it’s going to help us prepare in the offseason,” Rodriguez said. “I know, myself, I’m going to get better and I know my teammates are going to get better.”
“I feel like everything that could’ve happened was happening to us,” Walker said. “That kind of made us stronger. I think that next year, since we fought through basically everything this year, we’re going to come back prepared for everything and ready for anything.”
Binghamton has just two upperclassmen (one junior and one senior) on its roster. With a young nucleus, led by All-Rookie selection Rodriguez, the Bearcats know their future is bright.
“It doesn’t matter what happened in November or December, or what our record is. I know you look down at the stat-sheet and say ‘Oh jeez’ when you look at our record,” Dempsey said. “But where we are today, I’m really, really excited. This isn’t a 6-26 team right now, this is a team that can compete with the top teams in this league and they’re going to get a lot better. It’s going to be a lot of fun here over the next couple of years.”