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NCAA Tournament proves memorable for Bearcats

By : John Hartrick

On the surface it looked like a disappointing 24-point loss — a lopsided defeat that closed the book on an otherwise stellar season.

But the Binghamton men’s basketball loss to fifth-ranked Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament cannot be measured in such simple fashion. The final score may have been Duke 86, Binghamton 62, but the result was most certainly a win. The game was the culmination of a set of events that united the campus, community and alumni in an unprecedented show of school spirit, pride and achievement.

From the team’s title run in the America East tournament to the police-escort heroes’ return to campus on March 20, the Bearcats’ amazing run to the NCAA tournament was shared by many people. There were so many goose-bump moments along the way, many seen by thousands but some witnessed only by a few. The team’s championship victory over UMBC in the nationally televised America East title game set off a chain of events that sent the Bearcats and their fans to Greensboro, N.C., and a first-ever NCAA appearance.

Head coach Kevin Broadus, the America East Coach of the Year and engineer of the historic season, was hounded by regional and national media. In the two days that followed Selection Sunday, Broadus received more than 40 interview requests and appeared on ESPNews and numerous national radio shows. “Broadusville” was fully incorporated when Binghamton students began camping out overnight in front of the Events Center, and the second-year coach’s popularity continued to skyrocket.

As the team boarded the bus for the Syracuse airport and a chartered plane to Greensboro on Tuesday morning, well-wishers included the young children at the Campus Pre-School, who stood on the sidewalk with signs and smiling faces. Broadus stepped off the bus and greeted the youngest of fans. One of the earlier well-wishers was more amusing than touching and came courtesy of e-mail. It was a special note from the University of North Carolina booster club, and the basic sentiment was “beat Duke.” The e-mail pledged hospitality and support all for the sake of defeating the Tar Heels’ longtime Atlantic Coast Conference rival. As the e-mail stated, “Our favorite teams are: 1. North Carolina and 2. Whoever plays Duke.”

While fans cheered in Binghamton, the team and its fans were treated wonderfully in Greensboro as well. From the official host escorts to the hotel and Coliseum staffers and, yes, the Carolina fans, Binghamton was welcomed with open arms and smiles.

Even legendary Tar Heels coach Roy Williams took a moment to pull Broadus aside and give him words of encouragement and congratulations. Along the way there were press conferences, team meetings, meals, practices, film sessions and finally down time, when the student-athletes and staff watched television and relaxed on the eve of the event.

In addition to the hundreds of Binghamton-area fans and alums who flew and drove to Greensboro, several former players made the trip to support the program. In fact, attending the game were players from the team’s Division III era (single-season rebounds leader Todd Jost), Division II tenure (Jeff Daws, whose deft outside shooting nearly knocked off North Carolina back in 2001) and now Division I (Mike Gordon, whose career helped build the program and fan base and blaze the recruiting trail for the current players).

Familiar faces also included former assistant coach Ali Ton and former standout Lazar Trifunovic, who enjoyed their own trip to Greensboro with 16th-seeded Radford.

The Coliseum was filled with fans bearing their school colors, and thus there was Carolina light blue, Duke dark blue, Texas orange, Minnesota maroon and Bearcat green in the night session. Team bands and cheerleaders taking turns touting their fight songs and dance steps helped create an electric atmosphere. When each Duke starter was introduced, there was a deafening blend of cheers (Duke fans) and boos (Carolina and Binghamton fans) that resonated throughout the 24,000-seat building. The Bearcats weren’t fazed by the pressure and atmosphere, and were within striking distance of the second-seeded Blue Devils until midway through the second half. The team’s performance impressed Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who said in his postgame press conference that Binghamton “took the game to us in the first half.” He added, “They took the fight to us and I admire the way they did that. They played their hearts out against us.”

When the final horn sounded, Duke advanced, as many expected. But for the Bearcats and their fans, victory was already in hand.    

The season provided the most overall wins (23), most conference wins (13), most consecutive wins (11), first conference regular season and tournament titles, first national ranking (mid-major) and of course, the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth in 63 years of basketball.    

And there were more numbers to brag about. The school-record average attendance of 3,894 — tops in the conference for the sixth consecutive season. Three straight Events Center sellouts. Two straight games on national television. And off the court, more success: Binghamton’s elite status among NCAA Tournament teams with a 100 percent graduation rate (Binghamton was one of just seven schools, out of 65, that maintained that perfection).

But perhaps the biggest number was the average of nearly 8 million households tuned in to CBS’ coverage of the Binghamton-Duke game, along with the three other late games Thursday night. Those viewers were introduced to Binghamton University and that first impression was no doubt a positive and lasting one.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08