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Bearcats are one win away from NCAA Tournament

By : John Hartrick

Junior guard D.J. Rivera stole an inbounds pass with 11 seconds left and scored on a dunk, propelling top-seeded Binghamton to a 72-67 victory over No. 4 New Hampshire in the America East semifinals Sunday, March 8, at Albany’s SEFCU Arena.

It was the 10th consecutive victory for Binghamton, which beat Hartford, 73-65, on Saturday, March 7, in the quarterfinals.

The Bearcats (22-8) now advance to their first-ever America East championship game against No. 6 seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County (15-16) at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 14, at the Events Center.

The title game will be broadcast live on ESPN2 — Binghamton’s first nationally televised game. The winner of the championship game will receive an automatic berth to play in the NCAA Tournament. Selections and pairings for the NCAA Tournament will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 15. First-round tournament games are Thursday and Friday, March 19-20.

The Bearcats have already clinched a berth in the National Invitational Tournament, which features a 32-team field of schools that did not earn spots in the NCAA Tournament. NIT games begin Monday, March 16.

With Binghamton clinging to a 68-67 lead and UNH setting up a potential game-winning shot in the closing 13 seconds, Rivera stole a pass just inside midcourt and raced to the basket in front of a frenzied BU student section. Junior guard Emanuel Mayben added two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to complete Binghamton’s 10-0 scoring run to end the game.

The Wildcats led 67-62 with 2:02 left before Rivera started the comeback by hitting a three-pointer. Senior forward Reggie Fuller grabbed an offensive rebound and his putback and ensuing free throw gave the Bearcats a 68-67 lead with 1:18 left. Mayben, however, was called for an offensive foul with 18 seconds left, giving UNH a final possession before Rivera’s play rescued the Bearcats.

“That’s the type of play an MVP makes,” head coach Kevin Broadus, America East’s coach of the year, said of Rivera’s steal and jam. “It was an America East war out there. New Hampshire is a tough bunch of guys and the game could’ve gone either way. We regrouped in the second half and played together.”

The Wildcats hit five three-pointers in the first half, and made 4-of-4 free throws in the final 52 seconds to carry a 36-34 lead into halftime.

Rivera scored 17 of his game-high 26 points after intermission, and also had eight rebounds and three steals. Mayben produced 19 points and three steals, and junior guard Malik Alvin added 10 points. Fuller scored nine points and had seven rebounds in 28 minutes.

Mayben had two key plays late in the game: He dropped in a leaning 14-footer with 6:01 left and his free throw completed a three-point play that tied the game at 57. He then sank three free throws after being fouled attempting a three-pointer with 3:43 left and Binghamton trailing, 61-59.

Ticket prices for the title game, set by the America East Conference, are $25 for adults, $10 for children ages 14 and under and $5 for Binghamton University students who present a valid undergraduate ID.

Based on availability, tickets are on sale for the general public at the Events Center Box Office from noon-4:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 12-13, and from 9 a.m. through the start of the game Saturday, March 14.

For more information, call 777-3741 or 777-6991.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08