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"...and I'm proud to be a Binghamtonian" ;)
Binghamton wins America East, punches first dance ticket_
VESTAL, N.Y. -- Kevin Broadus choked back tears. So, too, did Emanuel Mayben as teammates D.J. Rivera and Reggie Fuller struggled to find the right words.
That's what securing a spot in the NCAA tournament can do to a coach and his players, especially when it's the first and you've overcome a heap of criticism.
Fuller, a senior forward and junior college transfer from Texas, had 19 points and 10 rebounds, Rivera added 16 points, and Binghamton beat defending America East champion UMBC 61-51 on Saturday for the conference title and the school's first NCAA tournament berth.
"We just persevered and fought all year long," said Broadus, conference coach of the year in just his second year at Binghamton. "They never gave up. The only way you can be a champion, someone told me, is to beat a champion. This year was an unbelievable ride for me personally. These guys coached me. These guys showed me what a true champion is all about."
It was the 11th straight win for the top-seeded Bearcats (23-8) and their first America East title since moving to Division I for the 2001-02 season.
UMBC (15-17), the sixth seed and the last team to beat Binghamton, made its first NCAA tournament appearance a year ago. The Retrievers' chance of a second vanished when they failed to score in the game's final 4:49.
"We didn't score for a while, but we had numerous chances," UMBC coach Randy Monroe said. "It just wasn't meant to be."
Rich Flemming led UMBC with 14 points and 11 rebounds, conference scoring champion Darryl Proctor had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Chauncey Gilliam had 10 points.
Two decades ago, the Binghamton Colonials were a mediocre Division III team playing in an old gym with a tiny fan base. These Bearcats were cheered by a raucous green-and-white-clad, standing-room-only home crowd of 5,342, the largest in the history of the Events Center, and they celebrated the first title of any kind in the program's 63-year history.
"We had a long year," said Rivera, named tournament most outstanding player. "I'm just happy and excited it's paid off."
Binghamton shadowed UMBC guard Jay Greene with a taller player at every turn, and the strategy worked. Greene was just 3-for-10 -- 1-for-6 from beyond the arc -- and finished with seven points, four assists and five turnovers in playing every minute.
Binghamton took control by scoring 12 straight points spanning the halftime break, and then held on at the end when the Bearcats had difficulty finding openings in the UMBC defense. Mayben's layup that gave Binghamton a 56-47 lead with 7:32 left was the last basket of the game for the Bearcats.
The Retrievers had plenty of chances to challenge after moving within 57-51 but it all failed. In the final 4 minutes, Greene missed a 3, Proctor was called for a charge as he made a layup, then missed another drive to the basket and a pair of free throws.
In the final frantic minute, Flemming missed a follow and a 3 and Gilliam missed a 3 and a layup.
That set off a noisy celebration on the court. The Bearcats had been the subject of a recent article in the New York Times that criticized the school administration and Broadus for his recruiting.
League coaches vote all-conference teams, and when they delivered a message by not selecting any of the Bearcats to the first team -- Rivera, a transfer from Saint Joseph's, was voted to the second team despite losing the scoring title to Proctor by just 20.2 to 20.1 points per game -- Broadus defended his record and the university backed him.
On Saturday, he simply wanted to put that all behind.
"There comes a time when you have to let things go," said Broadus, a former assistant at Georgetown. "We were like racehorses. We put blinders on, earplugs in and just played the game harder."