Binghamton has extended Tommy Dempsey through the 2018-19 season, the school announced Thursday afternoon.
Dempsey, whose five-year deal signed in 2012 was due to expire after the 2016-17 season, has compiled a 16-76 record through his first three years. Despite the mark, Director of Athletics Patrick Elliott has expressed faith in Dempsey’s ability to rebuild a program that won one game the year before he came over from Rider, where he went 119-105 and won a MAAC Coach of the Year award.
“Tommy has done a great job building a strong foundation for the future success of our program,” Elliott said in the school’s release. “I believe that it is important to ensure stability and continuity as we move forward over the next several years. With quality student athletes, a dedicated staff and our loyal fans, I am excited as our program takes the next steps forward.”
The Bearcats went 6-26 in 2014-15, battling back from Jordan Reed’s defection and Nick Madray and Dusan Perovic’s season-ending injuries to finish 5-11 in the America East. They took Stony Brook to the wire in a 62-57 loss in an America East quarterfinal.
“I am grateful to work for an administration that believes in our process,” Dempsey said. “We are working hard to build a program that the University, alumni and community can be proud of. I’m looking forward to being the leader of this program for many years.”
With a the NCAA Tournament dreams dashed for seven of the America East’s nine teams, and a day remaining before the March Madness showdown between bitter rivals Albany and Stony Brook for all the marbles, One-Bid Wonders decided to take a look back at the America East basketball season that was in dunks. Take a look and enjoy — all nine America East teams and quite a few players are represented.
Who was the conference’s best dunker? What was the best dunk of the season? Leave us a comment below.
In anticipation of the America East championship and the start of March Madness, which tips off with top-seed Albany facing three-seed Stony Brook at 11 a.m. Saturday, OBW’s Sam Perkins linked up with Big Apple Buckets’ Ryan Restivo and the America East’s Jared Hager to take a look back a the season that was, before looking ahead to the championship game that will be.
The trio shared a great deal of laughs, as well as insider insight over the course of the night, with topics ranging from their overall impressions and biggest surprises during the regular season; thoughts on the change in the conference’s post season format, from a single-site tournament to a high-seed host playoff; the best game of the post season; and of course, detailed breakdowns and predictions of the big game itself.
That was the mantra for Stony Brook men’s basketball on Wednesday night when the third-seeded Seawolves walked off the court at Island FCU Arena after squeaking out a 62-57 win over sixth-seeded Binghamton in the quarterfinals of the America East Playoffs. The victory was just that: a survival.
Despite taking multiple double-digit leads in the second half, Stony Brook had a hard time sealing the game. The Bearcats were able to keep it close, and for a moment there, one could hear the collective thought of a home crowd of 3,289 that’s seen countless March letdowns by the Seawolves thinking, “Not again.”
That moment came with 28 seconds left and Binghamton down 58-55. Willie Rodriguez drove down the lane and kicked the ball out to the left wing where a wide-open Justin McFadden was waiting. The freshman let the ball fly, the crowd held its breath, and the ball was halfway down before popping back out.
“It was a little frightening,” Stony Brook point guard Carson Puriefoy admitted afterwards. “But we’re a veteran team. If he had made that shot, we would come down and get a good [shot] up. There isn’t a situation we haven’t been in this season. Just because they make shots doesn’t mean we can’t come back and make our move so I was confident in our guys.”
The Seawolves (22-10) advance to the semifinals on Sunday for a showdown at Patrick Gym against second-seeded Vermont (18-12), which downed UMBC, 66-39, in the quarterfinals. Top-seeded Albany (22-8) will host No. 4 New Hampshire (19-11) in the other semifinal.
“Coach Pikiell’s motto is, ’40 gets you 40,’ so it’s all about survive and advance,” Stony Brook center Jameel Warney said.
Despite dispatching Binghamton (6-26) in two regular-season meetings, Stony Brook knew this would not be an easy game.
“You’re playing a dangerous team, they have talented young players, credit to coach (Tommy) Dempsey because at the end of the year the more tape I watched on them I saw they weren’t playing like a team that’s lost a lot of games, they were playing like a good basketball team,” Stony Brook coach Steve Pikiell said. “I told our guys this will be the hardest 40 minutes they’ll play, and it always is in the first round of the tournament when no one wants to put their uniforms away.”
The Bearcats gave the Seawolves everything they could handle, from a stifling 2-3 zone to All-Rookie selection Rodriguez’s strong low-post presence. Binghamton took a two-point lead into halftime and held Stony Brook to 30.8 percent shooting in the first half, including a stretch of shooting 0-for-12.
“Offense is the most inconsistent part of the game, we know that,” Puriefoy said. “Our coaches tell us all the time, in the playoffs we need to rely on our defense. We know we’re a great defensive team and we can rely on that when our shots aren’t falling. We kept it close so we can make a run in the second half.”
Stony Brook, which prides itself on dominating the glass, was even outrebounded 19-16 thanks in large part to Rayshaun McGrew being held to six minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
“It was frustrating, but I didn’t want to show my emotions during the game,” McGrew said. “I didn’t want to bring the team energy down so I just cheered them on while I was on the bench and tried to pick them up when things were going bad while I wasn’t out there.”
The Seawolves woke up early in the second half, taking their largest lead of the game at 41-30 thanks to a 14-0 run. Scott King (six points) played some big minutes off the bench and the crowd erupted when he drained a transition three and later threw down an alley-oop slam.
Puriefoy finished with 14 points and five assists and McGrew had 14 points and eight rebounds. Warney, who was named America East Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year on Monday, had 11 points and 14 rebounds for his nation-leading 21st double-double to go along with three assists, two steals and a block.
For Binghamton, Rodriguez put up a game-high 19 points and added six rebounds. Romello Walker chipped in 10 points and eight boards.
One thing is for certain, though: the Seawolves can’t expect to shoot 31 percent in a half and be let off the hook against a team like Vermont. Maybe it was a good thing for the Seawolves that the first-round game was such a dogfight, it was a slap in the face to let them know they’re playing playoff basketball. But at this point, a win’s a win; no matter how ugly it is or how it gets done, it’s all about doing what needs to be done to get that “W.”
Stony Brook has now won seven straight games and will take that confidence into Burlington when they face the Catamounts, who swept the regular-season series, including a 17-point comeback win on Stony Brook’s home floor on Feb. 7.
“We can play with any team in this league,” Pikiell said. “Nothing is ever easy here for us, so we’ll go on the road to a tough place and we’ll be ready to play.”
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.”
Named in honor of former Binghamton Bearcat Mahamoud Jabbi, who made Binghamton out of an open tryout, only to go on to become one of the best players in the league.
OBW Mahamoud Jabbi America East men’s basketball Walk-on of the Year Award.
Ben Grace, Soph., G, UMBC
Grace began the season excelling at the normal, garden variety walk-on activities: pregame hand shakes, towel waving, and bringing everything he had in practice. But by the end of the year, The Grace-a-nator (as dubbed by teammate Devarick Houston) had earned time in the starting lineup, where he showed some serious cojones and no fear knocking down contested 3-pointers in games. Grace’s overall numbers, 17 minutes and 3.6 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting from downtown, are darn solid for a walk on, but they’re also deflated by riding the pine for the first half of the year. Grace saved his two best games for Binghamton, scoring 17 points and drilling five 3-pointers each time he faced the Bearcats.
Coaches vote for a variety of different reasons — some for who they think the best players are regardless of factors or pre qualifiers, but many because they want to pay homage to the upperclassmen, or for the best player on the best team, or because they don’t like transfers or JuCos.
When it comes to our awards, we give added weight to performance in conference play, and helping carry their team to wins (important note: There is a difference between carrying a team to wins, and getting carried along for the ride). But at the end of the day, we simply try to pick the best individual players no matter their class, seniority, or how they came to play in the America East.
With that said, here’s a look at our America East men’s basketball All-Conference Third Team.
OBW America East Third Team All-Conference
Rayshaun McGrew, Jr., F, Stony Brook
McGrew had a bit of an up-and-down season, and certainly benefitted from playing behind the unstoppable force that is Jameel Warney. That being said, the 6’7” junior’s rebounding numbers – his 9.5 rebounds per game in AE play and 8.4 rebounds per game each rank second in the conference — speak for themselves:
Mark Nwakamma, Sr., F, Hartford
If Nwakamma had been healthy, instead of battling a knee injury throughout much of the conference slate there’s an excellent chance he would have landed on either the All-Conference First or Second teams. His numbers – ninth in overall scoring (11.8 ppg), seventh in rebounding (5.7 rpg), 17th in scoring in conference games (10.9 ppg) and sixth in rebounding in AE Play (5.8 rpg) — remain admirable none the less.
Willie Rodriguez, Fr., F, Binghamton
Rodriguez did everything for the Bearcats, rebounding, defending, scoring from all over the floor, while making all the little plays that don’t show up in the box score. His 11.6 points per game overall, 12.7 points per conference game, 5.5 rebounds per game and 5.7 rebounds per conference game rank 11th, eight, eight and seventh, respectively.
Ray Sanders, Jr., G/F, Albany
Saunders was a lock down defender all season long for the Great Danes, spearheading their defensive attack, but turned it on offensively down the stretch in conference play when Albany needed him the most, ranking 16th in scoring (11.2 ppg) and 11th in rebounding (5.3 rpg) in AE play.
Jaleen Smith, Soph., G, New Hampshire
Smith was the unsung hero of the Wildcats, the biggest surprise in the league. On the defensive end, he was a lock down defender and the lynchpin of the league’s best defense. On offense, he created off the dribble, got to the rim, and found the open man, while also making a dent on the glass (his 5.6 rebounds per game in AE play ranked ninth).
It was a banner year for America East men’s basketball rookies. In previous years, we had a hard time finding five truly worthy players to fill out an All-Rookie squad. This season, there were another half dozen or so worthy candidates who didn’t make the cut. We admit, we copped out by selecting six frosh for our squad, but every one of them was damn good.
OBW America East men’s basketball All-Rookie Team Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Grant shouldered a huge load all season long for the Retrievers as the teams only ball handler and flourished, leading the league in assists both in conference play (4.2 apg) and overall (4.0 apg) while ranking 19th in scoring in America East games (10.8 ppg).
Trae-Bell Haynes, G, Vermont
Bell-Haynes hit a bit of a wall down the stretch for the Catamounts, but over the course of the season he was completely dynamic as a one-man fast break, ranking second in assists in conference games (4.0 apg) and third overall (3.4 apg), while also shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor.
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
As a true freshman Leissner established himself as the best and most important player for the best New Hampshire squad to set foot in Ludholm Gymnasium since the mid 90s. Capable of scoring from everywhere on the floor, the 6’7” power forward completely changes the Wildcats offense, ranking sixth in scoring both overall (12.8 ppg) and in league play (13.1 ppg), fourth in overall rebounding (7.4 rpg) and third in rebounding in conference games (8.5 rpg).
Kevin Little, G, Maine
Little missed nine games due to injury, and was gimpy for most of the year, but when he was on the floor, despite often times standing out as the only capable scorer on a depleted Black Bears roster, the dude straight lit it up, ranking third in America East play in scoring at 15.2 points per game (12.5 ppg overall).
Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Rodriguez is a true America East forward – 6’6”, not particularly athletic, but tough as nails — who finds ways to just get the job done. Rodriguez ranked 11th overall in scoring (11.6 ppg) and eighth overall in rebounding (5.5 rpg), and elevated his game in conference play, ranking eighth in scoring (12.7 ppg) and seventh in rebounding (5.7 rpg).
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell
Thomas missed the final seven games of the season with a torn ACL, but before he went down he wasn’t simply THE best rookie in the league, he was one of the best players regardless of class. A 6’2” power forward, Thomas bullied players a half a foot or more taller than him while facing double and triple teams (and even the box-1 on more than one occasion) that only Stony Brook star Jameel Warney saw more of, and still finished the year third in overall scoring (14.3 ppg), fifth in rebounds (6.5 rpg), and sixth in field goal percentage (52.3 percent), while also anchoring the River Hawks defense.
The regular season has wrapped up, the seedings are set, and the America East Playoffs start in just three days. That mean’s its time for the annual OBW America East men’s basketball awards, starting off with our All-Rim Wreckers Team honoring the top five in-game dunkers in the league. Sure, dunks only count for two points on the score board, but they can change the emotion and momentum in a game.
Plus, they’re damn fun to watch. So, without further ado:
OBW America East All-Rim Wreckers (Dunkers) Team
Devarick Houston, Sr., F, UMBC
The 6’7” human-pogo stick was dropping out of the rafters all season long for rim-rocking alley-oops.
Romello Walker, Fr., G/F, Binghamton Walker might be the highest flier in the league, and was a terror when he got out on the fast break.
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
At 6’8” 260, Warney simply tried to rip the rim off every time he touched the ball with an array of power slams.
Kerry Weldon, F, UMass Lowell
Weldon was the middle ground between the likes of Warney and Houston/Walker, a big time high-flier capable of acrobatics, but also capable of rattling the backboard.
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
Generously listed at 6’1”, Wills was easily the most fearless dunker in the league, routinely driving the lane to throw down two-handed slams over far larger foes.
Don’t call it a comeback; Marlon Beck II has been doing this — working maniacally to improve his game and prove doubters wrong — for years.
One year ago, Beck was a star in the making as a freshman suiting up for Binghamton University, a shifty, pace changing point guard who fearlessly attacked the hoop and knocked down 3-pointers from anywhere inside of half court while averaging 10.2 points per game and 3.2 assists. A few weeks ago, Beck was a bust in the eyes of many outside the Binghamton program.
But to his Bearcats teammates and coaches, the 5’11” 175 pound point guard (and that listing is quite generous) has never faltered as a huge presence in the locker room and a beacon helping to guide Binghamton out of one of the darkest times in program history.
“He developed high character and discipline, great qualities. He is a confident kid and although he wasn’t playing [great] basketball earlier in the year, he never lost it,” says Binghamton head coach Tommy Dempsey.
As far back as he can remember, Beck, a Bowie, Maryland native has dreamt of playing Division I college basketball. And ever since he can remember, people have told him that he was “too small” to make those dreams a reality.
Those doubts have always fueled him to work harder than anyone else on the floor.
“I really had to make it,” Beck says, recalling his journey to Binghamton. “I didn’t get many college looks, I was still very young in high school so I decided to transfer to a school that was interested.”
Growing up as the son of two retired Army officers, Marlon Beck and Yvonne Prettyman-Beck, working hard to overcome obstacles has never been a foreign concept to the pint-sized point guard.
“The biggest thing about him is that he has parents who are two retired Colonel’s in the Army,” Dempsey says.
Beck spent his first two years of high school at Our Lady of Good Counsel, a private, Catholic, college-preparatory school in Olney, Maryland, before transferring to the Maret School, a prestigious co-educational, independent school in Washington, D.C., where he reclassified and was a three-year letter winner.
“Best years of my life,” Beck says, reflecting on his years at Maret. “The coaches really took me under the ring, told me what it took to succeed and were always tough on me.”
In his senior year, Beck helped Maret win a regular-season and postseason conference crowns and earn top-10 ranking in D.C.
Still, the Division I offers weren’t materializing.
“A few Ivy League schools were looking at me like Cornell and Princeton,” Beck says.
Beck was very interested in playing for Cornell, but after the Big Red signed several other guards, he didn’t see much opportunity to ever see the floor for Cornell.
“The communication lacked, so I backed away,” he says, adding “I had to open my options.”
Not many schools came calling after he opened back up his recruiting, but then his phone rang and on the other end was Dempsey, looking to build his first real recruiting class at Binghamton.
“They thought I was committed to Cornell when I got the call from Tommy,” Beck says. “They had signed a point guard already (Yosef Yacob), but he liked the idea of building a two-headed monster at the guard position. It was one of the most special moments in my life.”
Beck set foot on campus in Vestal, New York, a man possessed, intent on proving wrong all the schools passed on him. Three games into his college career, he did just that, exploding for a career-high 27 points at Cornell on Nov. 13 2013, drilling 9-of-15 shots and 6-of-9 from long range.
“That was special for me,” Beck says of his chance to show the Big Red what they had missed out on.
According to Dempsey, Beck played with confidence for the rest of the season, averaging 9.2 points, 2.9 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game for the year. But at the America East awards banquet, Beck hear his name called for conference awards or acknowledgements, something that irked him, but something that he turned to for motivation over his first off season.
Sophomore year proved to be a struggle for Beck, who saw his scoring drop to 8.2 points per game, and the young Bearcats, who were expected to make a leap out of the America East Conference basement, only to see their roster decimated by injuries, along with the departure of preseason First Team All-Conference pick Jordan Reed. According to Dempsey, as the team’s emotional epicenter and leader, Beck took the struggles particularly hard, and it affected his game during the early going.
“As a team we struggled,” Dempsey says. “What was hard for Marlon was that there was so much pressure put on him. In a lot of ways it was because the freshmen weren’t ready and we got into a tough place. He was losing confidence and it was more of the team struggling.”
Beck rediscovered his confidence and swagger in America East playing, hitting double-digits in scoring in eight conference games, including a stretch of six straight, and erupted for 20 points, on 8-of-12 shooting to go with four assists in a 76-69 victory against UMBC, to grab the sixth-seed in the America East Playoffs. Beck was equally big in 57-55 shocker over second-place Vermont on Feb. 18, drilling a deep 3-pointer from virtually the Bearcats logo at half court in the game’s deciding moments.
“If I’m not giving it my all I’ll let myself down,” Beck says. “If I’m not giving 100 percent they won’t give them their all. I need my teammates to get on me if I’m not.”
And despite a 6-25 overall record and 5-11 mark in conference play, and a first round road matchup against heavily favored Stony Brook in the first round of the playoffs, Beck isn’t about to start looking ahead towards next season.
“I think our team is strong and we know we have to work for it,” Beck says of Binghamton’s ability to pull off an upset. “I want to finish this season on a high note and make a run. Momentum is key in everything.”