ALBANY, N.Y. – Senior guard Tyrece Gibbs (Brockton, Mass.) and junior guard Colbey Santos (Onset, Mass.) scored 18 and 17 points, respectively, but the fourth-seeded University of New Hampshire men’s basketball team dropped a heartbreaking 72-67 decision to top-seeded Binghamton University in the America East semifinals at SEFCU Arena on Sunday evening.
The Wildcats wrap up their most successful season in nearly 15 years at 14-16 overall. The 14 wins are the most for the program since winning 19 games during the 1994-95 season. The Bearcats improve to 22-8 and advance to the March 14 championship game versus No. 6 UMBC.
Gibbs played like a senior in his final game, extending his double-digit scoring streak to a career-best nine games, during which he is averaging 18.8 points per game. Gibbs also added five rebounds, five assists and two blocks in 38 minutes. Santos stepped up in a huge way, playing his best game in a Wildcat uniform with a career-high 17 points on 5 of 7 shooting, including 4 of 5 from behind the arc. Santos also tallied seven rebounds, an assist and two steals in 22 minutes off the bench.
Trailing 59-58 with just under four minutes to play in the game, the Wildcats received another big basket from Santos, who knocked down a 3-pointer to put his team up two. Tiki Mayben gave Binghamton the lead back with three at the line, but a pair of free throws from senior guard Eric Gilchrese (Springfield, Ill.) leapfrogged the Wildcats back into the lead at 63-62 with 3:25 to play.
The Wildcats did not let up as Gibbs made back-to-back layups to match their largest lead of the game at 67-62 with 2:22 remaining. Just as it looked like Binghamton was fading, however, D.J. Rivera drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to cut the deficit to two before Reggie Fuller converted an old fashioned three-point play to give the Bearcats a 68-67 lead at 1:18.
UNH had the ball down one with 11 seconds left when Rivera tipped an inbound pass and coasted in for a dunk that extended the lead to three. A turnover on the ensuing inbound pass forced the Wildcats to send Mayben to the stripe where he sunk both to seal the win. In his final collegiate game, Gilchrese tallied eight points, three rebounds and five assists.
In front 36-34 to start the second half, the Wildcats clamped down on defense and held Binghamton without a field goal for six possessions over a span of 3:50. UNH only scored on two of those possessions, however, receiving a free throw from Gilchrese and a 3-pointer from Gibbs that opened up a 39-34 lead at 18:13.
Mayben matched the trey with one of his own to snap the drought and get his team its first score of the half at 16:09. Rivera quickly followed with a layup 39 seconds later to tie the game at 39, before Mayben put Binghamton on top with another 3-pointer at 14:29.
The deficit was four for the Wildcats just half a minute later when Gibbs sliced it to one with a 3. Gilchrese then found sophomore center Dane DiLiegro (Lexington, Mass.) underneath for a dunk that put UNH up 44-43 at 12:16. Rivera responded, however, finishing a layup as he was fouled before capitalizing at the line to put his team up two.
After Santos tied it with a pair from the stripe, layups by Fuller and Malik Alvin pushed Binghamton’s lead to four at 9:01. Santos rose to the occasion again in the absence of perimeter threats Alvin Abreu (Lynn, Mass.) and Tyrone Conley (Burlington, Vt.), drilling a 3-pointer to cut it to 50-49. Rivera answered with a 3 of his own before junior forward Radar Onguetou (Yaounde, Cameroon) sank a jumper to pull UNH within two.
With the deficit at three, Santos swiped the ball from Alvin and pushed it ahead to Conley, who threw down an acrobatic dunk to get within one. Conley was fouled hard to the ground by Fuller, however, and had to leave the game. Fuller was called for a hard foul, which gave the Wildcats two shots and the ball. Gibbs, taking the shots for Conley, sank one of two at the line, but drilled a 3 on the ensuing possession to give his squad a 57-54 lead at 6:54. Mayben responded by converting a three-point play to tie the game and then Rivera hit two at the line to put Binghamton on top 59-57 and set up the dramatic final five minutes.
DiLiegro recorded four points, six rebounds, a block and two steals, while Onguetou posted six points, a game-high eight rebounds and a block. Conley chipped in with eight points and two boards.
The game started as a back-and-forth affair for the first five minutes, but after Conley sank a 3-pointer to put UNH up 10-9, Binghamton ripped off an 11-0 run to take a 20-10 lead midway through the opening frame. In their biggest game of the season the Wildcats did not go away, responding with a 10-0 run that was sparked with a Santos trey and capped with a Santos layup that knotted the game at 20 with 6:52 remaining.
Binghamton then scored five straight and was up by that many until Gilchrese buried a 3 to close to within 28-26 at 3:17. Mayben and sophomore center James Valladares (Kaufman, Texas) traded jumpers, before Onguetou and Mayben switched baskets to keep the Bearcat lead at two. Valladares tied it at 32 with another bucket, but an Alvin layup kept the lead at two. Gibbs then went 4-for-4 from the line in the final 52 seconds to send UNH into the locker room with a 36-34 lead. The Wildcats fell to 9-2 when leading at halftime. Valladares finished with four points, three boards, a block and a steal in 12 minutes off the bench.
Gibbs finishes his UNH career in fifth place on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,329 points. The captain also leaves with the second most 3-pointers made in a career at 233, including 87 this year, which tied the most treys in a single season at UNH. Gibbs is all over the school’s record books, including first in games played (117), second in minutes (3,711) and blocks (60) and sixth in 3-point field goal percentage (.394).
UNH was outshot 41 percent (22-54) to 38 percent (22-58) from the floor, but held the upper hand from beyond the arc where it shot 43 percent (9-21) compared to Binghamton’s 33 percent (6-18). The Wildcats held the advantage on the glass at 40-35, and only turned the ball over one more time (15) than the Bearcats (14).
Rivera led Binghamton with 26 points, eight rebounds and three steals, while Mayben added 19 points, four boards, two assists, and three steals.
Despite the loss, the Wildcats should consider this a very successful season. After being picked to finish seventh at the start of the year, the Wildcats placed fourth, earned their highest seed in the tournament in seven years, made just their sixth semifinal game in school history and came within minutes of their first ever title game.