Before UMBC plays for its conference championship today, Steve Proctor will embrace one of the Retrievers' stars.
"Keep it up," he'll tell Darryl Proctor, UMBC's tournament-tough forward. "Don't change nothin'."
Then Steve Proctor, a former Binghamton basketball player, will melt into the crowd and urge his kid brother to beat his alma mater.
"I might be the loudest person at the game," the elder Proctor said of the America East final at 11 a.m. in Binghamton, N.Y. "You don't root against family."
Or bet against UMBC, given its unconventional march toward a title. The Retrievers are 15-16 and haven't been above .500 since Christmas, but they have shed the lap-dog role with back-to-back tournament victories. Now coach Rodney Monroe's charges are one game from repeating as America East champs and earning a second straight NCAA tournament berth.
Only Binghamton (22-8) stands in the way of UMBC, which struggled all season with a depleted roster because of injuries and two players who quit.
"We peaked at the right time," said Darryl Proctor, the scoring leader (20.2 points a game). "Why? With everyone doubting us, we figure there's nothing to lose, so we play every game like it's our last.
"Now, all the pressure is on [top-seeded] Binghamton. There's a lot to be said for coming in the back door."
The teams split in the regular season, each winning at home. Proctor starred in both, scoring 26 in an 84-78 upset, Binghamton's last defeat. The Bearcats have won 10 straight since, including a 71-51 blowout of UMBC in which Proctor had 18 points and 14 rebounds.
"No excuses - they tore us to pieces that game," Monroe said. "Now we're staring at each other at the top of the mountain."
In the stands, Steve Proctor will be pulling for the visitors despite having started for Binghamton from 2005 to 2007. He has already spread the word.
"Everyone there clearly understands that when Darryl plays Binghamton, I'm going to cheer for him more so than the school," Proctor said.
"That's what brothers are for."
AMERICA EAST FINAL UMBC (15-16) @ BINGHAMTON (22-8) Today, 11 a.m. TV: ESPN2