Ben Shungu to the Rescue as Vermont Moves to 15-1 in AE Standings
Final Score: Vermont 66 – Binghamton 49
The Cats knocked off Binghamton on the road Wednesday night, pushing their conference record to 15-1 – tying a program record for second most conference wins in a season. With two games remaining against the bottom of the America East barrel (Maine & UML), there’s a very, very, very good chance that the 2021-22 Vermont Catamounts set a new record for most conference wins in a season.
Now as for the game itself, this was actually pretty tough to watch. The first-half began in typical fashion with Vermont cooking offensively and ballooning their lead up to 20 points by the end of the first-half horn. What should’ve been another blowout victory suddenly turned into a stagnant mess. For nearly eight minutes in the second-half (16:25-8:01), Vermont would score just four total points. Thankfully Vermont’s defense put the clamps on Binghamton, as the Bearcats could only cut the lead down to 11 during that ugly dry spell. But arguably even worse than that putrid offensive stretch was what followed. By my count there were 10 fouls called in the final six minutes of the game, making for an absolutely unwatchable ending. Vermont was up 17 at this point and it was crystal clear that the game was over. I get that the officials have a job to do, but good lord have some self-awareness and don’t call ticky-tack fouls late in the second-half when the game is clearly over. Whatever, Vermont still covered.
This was not a huge highlight-reel game by any means, but there were still plenty of aspects that deserve recognition. There were two facets in particular that stood out to me – rebounding and steals. As a whole, Vermont is pretty average in both categories, yet Wednesday they certain stepped it up. The Cats finished with 46 total boards, 15 of which came on the offensive side of the glass. That’s more than double what they currently average (7.0 ORPG) and nearly 12 more that their total average per game (34.3). Likewise, even though Vermont has been incredibly stout defensively, they remain in the bottom half of the AE for steals per game with five. Against Binghamton, Vermont would finish with 8 total steals on the night, four of which coming from Justin Mazzulla who was snatching cookies left and right all game.
Lastly, clap it up for Ben Shungu. The senior guard was everywhere Wednesday night, finishing with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. I don’t know if Shungu wears number 24 out of respect for Kobe, but he certainly has that Mamba Mentality. When the Cat’s offense came a screeching halt, it was Shungu who put the team on his back, ending the scoring drought with his patented step-back jumper as the shot-clock expired. Shungu accounted for 10 of Vermont’s final 16 points. I’ve routinely said that Ryan Davis is the AE PoY, but honestly it might be Shungu who earns that title. Hometown hero turned walk-on turned AE PoY. Hollywood is already chompin at the bit.
I’m not going to harp on this too much because Vermont won and still managed to hit the cover, but that second-half scoring drought was excruciating to watch. Though to a certain degree I’m glad the team had to deal with some level of adversity. Come AE and NCAA Tour time it most definitely will not be all sunshine and rainbows for Vermont. They will be tested. At least now they’ve seen the offense stall and what type of defensive looks give them problems. Let’s just hope that the next time they find themselves in desperate need of a bucket it doesn’t take 8+ minutes to feed Shungu the rock.
I mentioned this earlier, but the second-half officiating was atrocious. Bite your tongue and let the boys play. I mean FFS, the game was all but over by halftime! It would be one thing if the game was getting chippy and someone could’ve been hurt, but these were some soft calls late into the second-half. I get that under no circumstance should you compromise the integrity of the game based on the score but you should be cognizant that these ticky-tack calls are only delaying the inevitable.
Elsewhere, the game itself felt pretty sloppy at times. Both from a Vermont and Binghamton perspective. There was one play in particular from Vermont’s Finn Sullivan that was downright abhorrent. Late in the second-half Sullivan was dribbling up just past mid-court when John McGriff stole the ball away. Sullivan had tripped up and immediately fouled as McGriff snatched the rock. This is the definition of ugly basketball. I love what Sullivan adds to this team, but man oh man that was not something you expect from a veteran leader.
Next Game: Home vs UMass-Lowell
Game Time: Saturday, February 26th, 4:00pm (ESPN3)