Binghamton High boys basketball coach Dave Springer knew his team had to play better defense than it did the first time it played Maine-Endwell if it was going to avenge its lone loss of the season.
Sunday night, Springer got his wish.
Jaime Curtis scored 16 points and the Patriots limited M-E to 40 percent shooting in a 50-45 victory in the Regional Division I title game of the Mirabito STOP-DWI Holiday Classic at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
Tournament MVP K.J. Rose added 13 points and Andre Yevchinecz chipped in with 11 points for Binghamton (7-1), which had lost at M-E, 61-59, on Kyle Gallagher’s put-back with 2.4 seconds remaining.
This time, it was Binghamton’s turn to benefit from a late put-back, this one courtesy of Yevchinecz, who was a constant presence both offensively and defensively throughout his 32 minutes of high-octane play.
After the Spartans’ Chris Heimes scored with 52.2 seconds left to cut Binghamton’s lead to 45-42, Rose missed a 15-footer on the Patriots’ ensuing possession.
As the ball caromed off the rim, the 5-foot-10 Yevchinecz skyed above several M-E defenders for a tip-in with 30 seconds remaining that put Binghamton ahead 47-42.
M-E (5-2) turned the ball over on its ensuing possession, and Rose nailed a pair of free throws with 17.4 seconds left to seal it.
“I told (Yevchinecz) on the way back on defense he saved me cause I missed the jump shot,” Rose said with a smile. “I thanked him. I might even have to buy him lunch now.”
Yevchinecz added seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks to go along with his 11 points.
“He’s our best on-ball defender, he just out-works everybody and plays above his size,” Springer said. “If you have a guy unselfish like that who wants to play good defense and rebound, you’ll have a great basketball team.”
Heimes led M-E with 15 points despite sitting all but three minutes in the first half after picking up two early fouls. He was the only Spartan in double-digits as the rest of the M-E team combined to make just 12 of 39 shots.
“We let them dictate how we played offensively,” M-E coach Bill Ocker said. “We missed a few open looks but they did a good job of making everything difficult for us.”
From the onset of Sunday’s contest, both teams played intense, defensive-minded, up-and-down basketball.
Neither team led by more than three points in the first half, with Binghamton taking a 24-21 lead into halftime on Rose’s pull-up 12-footer as time expired.
Binghamton opened the second half with six straight points to grab a 30-21 lead, the last of those coming on a short shot by Yevchinecz with 5:10 left.
However, M-E didn’t wilt. The Spartans scored 15 of the next 18 points – six of those by Heimes – with an up-and-under move by Jake Sinicki for a basket capping the surge and giving M-E a 36-33 lead with 46.1 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We were all shocked,” Rose said of the M-E comeback. “But coach settled us down and got us back in the flow of things.”
Binghamton knotted the score at 36 by the end of the third quarter. The Patriots finally got a little breathing room in the fourth quarter when — after a Sinicki basket tied the score at 40 with 4:40 remaining for M-E — Yevchinecz made back-to-back buckets and Rose hit one of two free throws for a 45-40 advantage with 2½ minutes remaining.
M-E went nearly four minutes without scoring in the fourth quarter.
“We wanted more ball pressure, we gave up a lot of easy baskets the first time we played them,” Springer said. “We wanted to limit their shots … we can’t win games giving up 60 points.”