LOWELL -- Mark Cornelius three years ago went to North Carolina State to study, not to try to play major college basketball.
But while intending to live a "normal college life" in Raleigh after being a three-sport star at Westford Academy, Cornelius got the urge to try to walk on to the Wolfpack.
"I pretty much knew I would regret it in the future if I didn't try," he said. "I knew I could play."
The 6-foot-2 guard didn't make it at NC State. ( Being the 2011 Sun Player of the Year apparently doesn't carry much weight in the ACC.)
So Cornelius before last season transferred back home to UMass Lowell when it was still a Division 2 program.
"Should we schedule North Carolina State next year? Show them what they missed?" joked UMass Lowell coach Pat Duquette, with a certain smiling sophomore sitting beside him at the River Hawks' post-game press conference on Saturday.
Cornelius had just scored a season-high 12 points, and defensively been instrumental in cooling off Binghamton's Jordan Reed as UMass Lowell rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to win 62-55 before 349 delighted fans at the Costello Athletic Center.
UMass Lowell in its first season as a Division 1 program improved to 6-14, including an eye-catching 5-4 in America East.
Binghamton's Reed, averaging 14.0 ppg coming in, scored 10 points in the first half, including sending the Bearcats dancing into the locker room with a 35-22 lead after his buzzer-beating alley-oop dunk.
But with Cornelius often fronting the taller Reed, the 6-foot-4 sophomore was reduced to four points after intermission.
"You can still be an effective player, and an effective defender, without have the best foot speed. Is that fairly put?" a smiling Duquette asked Cornelius, sitting beside him.
"That's fair," answered Cornelius with a smile.
"Mark knows who he is," said Duquette. "He knows how he has to play. He has a high IQ and he plays great position defense."
Senior guard Akeem Williams' 19 points, including 16 in the second half, led four River Hawks in double figures. Williams hit a jumper 16 seconds into the second half to ignite a 19-2 run by UMass Lowell. "He's a man out there," Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey said of Williams, who scored 23 in a 71-59 win at Binghamton on Jan. 11.
Senior forward Antonio Bivins added 13 points. The River Hawks are 5-3 since the 6-foot-5 Bivins returned to the lineup Jan. 5 from a torn Achilles he suffered in preseason.
"It helps having Antonio Bivins," Duquette said, "but it also helps having a group of guys who didn't stop believing in themselves (after a 1-11 start)."
The River Hawks last Sunday went 0-for-20 on three-pointers and 6-for-49 overall (12.2 percent, worst shooting by a Division 1 team since 1986) during a 61-32 loss to the University of New Hampshire at the Tsongas Center. Undeterred by this shooting infamy, the River Hawks fired up 23 threes on Saturday, knocking down eight.
"We're a smaller team. We can't let a bad game let us get away from who we are," said Cornelius (1-for-3 on threes Saturday). "So long as we're taking good shots, we have to shoot them with confidence."
Binghamton fell to 4-18 (1-8 America East). The Bearcats in the first half pounded the ball inside to 6-foot-8, 240-pound Roland Brown and 6-foot-8, 235-pound Alex Ogundadegbe. Neither is a big scorer (5.1 ppg combined coming into Saturday), but their size caused UMass Lowell problems. The two combined for 14 of Binghamton's first 21 points.
No drastic adjustments were made at halftime, said Duquette. The River Hawks just had better results in the second half from their halfcourt man-to-man defense.
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