Game 034:New Hampshire 69, at Binghamton 60 Sunday, January 17, 2005 Events Center - Binghamton, NY
In my youth, Binghamton was more of a concept than an actual place. My New York Rangers had their farm team there once, and the place seemed like a magical blue fog from which hockey players would appear and then eventually fade back into. And then there that first time I tried to hitchhike across the United States, back when I was 16 - one of the last sentences in that particular story is, "But I made it as far as Binghamton."
This site gets quite a bit of traffic, attention and love from America East country. Just seven weeks from now, the tiny New York burg that sits at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers (as well as that of I-81 and I-88) will act as first-time host of the conference tournament's first three rounds. So after my first trip that featured Binghamton as an actual destination, I offer the following advice to March visitors.
First of all, they get ticked off if you insert a P into the name between the M and T. Secondly, don't follow the signs into Binghamton. Do not make the mistake that I made. If you venture into the downtown area, you will find empty streets, rude people who will give you incorrect directions, and drivers who will flip you off when they see your out-of-state plates. You'll also see the tarpaulined stadium where the NY-Penn League affiliate of New York's National League baseball club plays its long-season A-ball. But sadly, there's nothing at all Metropolitan about Binghamton.
Binghamton University - neé SUNY-Binghamton - is located to the west and south, achievable only by unraveling a tangle of New York state routes. The school, a relative newcomer to the Division I world, sports plenty of big-time athletics pedigree - I'm sure that Tony Kornheiser '70 and Karl Ravech '90 bore the other folks in the ESPN cafeteria with tales of their wild days there. But this is but their fourth year at the NCAA's top level, and only their second year of postseason eligibility. Instead of proverbially building from the ground up, they decided to build the building first and are in the process of filling it. And a beautiful building it is.
When you finally do find the Events Center, all glinting glass and bright steel, you are sure to marvel at its wonders. The soft, thick white arch of its roof pushes upward into the bland brown Lincoln-Log architecture of SUNY-Binghamton's campus, and welcomes you in with spacious parking lots and a great yawning entryway. Once you have your ticket in hand, the chairbacks are of a comfortable soft green plastic, and the rows and aisles allow for trouble-free ambulation. Concessions are reasonably-priced and plentiful, and I recommend the $2.50 super nachos.
On this particular cold and wintry Sunday afternoon, there was little in the way of traditional college atmosphere - no rowdy cheering section, no band, no cheer or dance or kickstep teams. The students were still on break, but a very respectably-sized crowd of over 2,700 made their way to the Events Center to see the Bearcats play New Hampshire. Based solely on first impressions of the town, the game was probably the only thing to do in town that day.
It was clear early on that this was not a crowd of basketball regulars - they cheered the media-timeout contests as loudly as they did the game (if not more so), and weren't yet too jaded to clap along with the ESPN Jock Jam Megamix. I noticed upon arrival that there were more wheelchair-bound patrons, elderly folks and potentially infirmed than I usually see at games. I say this not as anything other than a soft-hearted advocate of the differently-challenged, I wish to note that everybody was accommodated and well taken care of. The arena crew is utterly, remarkably professional.
(Note to staff, however: you might want to expand your music selections. Sure, it's a proven fact that the Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get It Started" is a great tune to get the crowd amped up, but four times in one game is pushing the limits of human decency.)
The product on the floor is an entertaining one, and that's not including the kid-friendly Baxter Bearcat mascot. The current Binghamton regulars are a bunch that's mostly been together since the jump to Division I. They've compiled a decent 26-29 record in America East play so far in this young century, but the program finds itself approaching a strange middle ground. They'll lose four key seniors at the end of this season, and their struggle to push themselves back into league contention after a 1-3 start means the bench doesn't get much experience.
Despite their upperclassman-heavy roster, they still cramp up in the brains department. The key moment in this game came with about a minute and a half remaining. After digging themselves out of a game-long ten-point ditch, they trailed their less talented opponents up by a 57-53 count and were back on defense. Binghamton displayed a spirited and athletic full-court press, and knocked an errant pass away. Bearcat junior guard Andre Heard grabbed the ball, but his attempt at a fancy behind-the-back pass fell back into the hands of a New Hampshire player. He in turn drove the lane and converted a three-point play. After that, the game was all-intents over, despite Binghamton's ever-insistent and down-to-the-buzzer hacking.
The University of New Hampshire, which usually goes by its James Brown-approved acronym UNH, is an anonymous bunch - except for a seldom-used freshman guard from Down Under listed as "Phil Collins." Even as the Wildcats pulled away in the closing minute, Collins spent another day in paradise in full warmups at the end of the bench, wishing he could be out on the floor where there's no jacket required. I was really disappointed that coach Phil Rowe didn't put Collins in, because I was hoping to see the dude bust a sweet "Sussudio" crossover move or something.
But Kyle, an intrepid America East fan might ask, what will I do in Binghamton after my team is eliminated by Vermont? What did Kornheiser, Ravech, and that guy who got to sleep with Helen Hunt on TV do during their spare time in order to make them the entertaining fellows they are?
Okay. For hanging out after the games, you have two options: Applebee's and Hooters. If you're traveling with your suburban tribe, you can convince your wife that this is actually a weighable choice - tell her that guy from The Mid-Majority said he saw a family of six there, so treating the kids to cleavage shows is now socially acceptable. There's a Wal-Mart Supercenter in nearby Vestal if you need any emergency supplies like posterboard and magic markers to make a "Taylor Coppenrath Fan Club" sign. And as the numerous in-arena signs note, there's a huge mall nearby.
As for Binghamton's most famous alums and their college hobbies, I'm not sure. Back in the days before Sam's Club, the Oakdale Mall and delightfully tacky-yet-unrefined chain restaurants, Binghamton was a regional capital for antiques. It also holds the distinction of being one of the most concentrated collection of antique carousels in the world, and all you need to ride is pick up one piece of litter. Next time you see Tony K., try "interrupting" him by asking how much fun Friday night drunken merry-go-round rides are.