In a nightmarish instant, the dream ended.
Jaron Cornish went up for a layup and took with him the hopes of a Stony Brook team that had nearly come back from a 24-point deficit. The basket looked good. The Seawolves would be within two with 30 seconds to go.
Then came the whistle. Blocking foul. But then there was a long pause. Deliberations. Looks at the monitor, and finally, a new call: a charge.
The points melted off the scoreboard, the Seawolves stood shell-shocked near the bench and the comeback that everyone at Island Federal Credit Union Arena thought was inevitable soon became impossible.
That’s how second-seeded Stony Brook’s America East Tournament ended, with a stunning 78-72 first-round loss to seventh-seeded Binghamton. And with it came the end of any hope of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
Binghamton’s small student contingent celebrated on the court, and even 20 minutes after the game, their cheers could be heard echoing in the hallways leading to the locker room.
It was Binghamton’s first tournament win since 2012 and the first time in 10 years that the Seawolves haven’t made it to the semifinals of the tournament.
In truth, it was shocking that the Seawolves even got that close. Right from the start, nothing went right. The baskets didn’t fall, the calls didn’t go their way and they found themselves staring up at a 53-29 deficit with 16:21 left in the game.
Binghamton, a team SBU beat twice in the regular season, suddenly couldn’t miss. Sam Sessoms scored 26 points and J.C. Show tacked on 19. Elijah Olaniyi led Stony Brook with 27 points.
“They bullied us [the first two games],” Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey said. “They’re bigger and stronger and a little more athletic [and] we just had to fight back. We just had to master physicality as best we could. [We’re] certainly undersized . . . We’re a program that needed a big signature win.”
The Seawolves seemed incapable of solving Binghamton’s suffocating zone defense, shooting only 32 percent in the first half. The Bearcats shot 50 percent and went into the break leading 43-25.
Three minutes into the second half, Calistus Anyichie slammed down a soul-crushing dunk, hanging on the rim as the Binghamton cheering section screamed in glee. SBU missed a layup seconds later, and Sessoms responded with a three to give the Bearcats their biggest lead.
The Seawolves, though, battled back. Andrew Garcia’s three-point play made it 59-46 with 10:27 to go and Jules Moore’s jumper cut it to 11. Olaniyi’s layup with 1:46 to go made it 71-65.
Slowly, the Seawolves cobbled together their comeback, with the crowd pushing them the entire way. When Cornish hit that layup — before it was reversed — the arena looked, for a moment, as if it were about to burst.
“One game doesn’t define the season,” SBU coach Jeff Boals said. “Obviously, it hurts and stings because I thought we had a team that was capable of winning the championship and going to the NCAA Tournament . . . They’ve given everything they [had].”