Men’s basketball’s defense shuts down NJIT

by Ray Lu | 1/20/15 6:01pm

The men’s basketball team led for all but three minutes and 11 seconds Saturday in a start-to-finish effort to beat the New Jersey Institute of Technology 62-53.

“It wasn’t a super high-scoring game,” co-captain Alex Mitola ’16 said. “It was a defensive battle.”

Mitola had a team-high 15 points on the strength of three three-pointers. Co-captain Gabas Maldunas ’15 chipped in 12 points along with 5 blocks, which tied his season high, and 4 steals, another season high. Miles Wright ’18 set a career high with 4 steals, including several breakaways to put the Big Green (7-8, 0-1 Ivy) ahead of the Highlanders (11-10) early in the game.

Maldunas attributed his impressive statistics to a couple of early turnovers on his part and the size advantage Dartmouth had in this game.

“[At] the start of the game I had a couple of turnovers that were pretty dumb,” he said. “They weren’t really forced by the other team and I was just bobbling the ball. So then, I knew I had to change. [I] started hustling for every play, diving for loose balls and everything.”

Wright had three steals in the first half for the Big Green, the last of which he slammed home with authority to give Dartmouth a 10-5 lead with 12:06 to go. The Highlanders were forced to call a time-out, but the Big Green held the momentum for the rest of the game.

“I think that number one, everyone is understanding the importance of what defense has done for us, whether offensively the ball is going in the basket or it’s not going in the basket,” coach Paul Cormier said. “If we can be consistent on defense, we give ourselves a chance to win.”

Dartmouth currently ranks fourth in the Ivy League in team defense, holding six of their last seven opponents to under 60 points. The team forced a season-high of 23 turnovers against NJIT.

“I think part of it is chemistry,” Mitola said. “This is a unit, at least the core of it, that has been playing together for one, two, even three years.”

The Big Green led at the half 23-16 and out-scored the Highlanders in the paint 14-2, but the team arguably could’ve been up even more, turning the ball over 12 times in the first half alone. Dartmouth coughed up the ball 18 times against NJIT, the team’s most since the second game of the season.

The Highlanders could not narrow the score difference by more than four points in the second half, despite four three-pointers and 18 points from Winfield Willis. The Highlander’s Damon Lynn, often the leading scorer for the team, was shut down with a season-low five points, shooting only one for10.

“We forced them into a lot of tough shots and a lot of deep jumpers that, being a jump-shooting team, they are capable of making, but we defended it pretty well,” Mitola said.

Maldunas said that coach Cormier explains various defensive concepts very well, and that it has helped the Big Green stay in games the past few years.

Just under three minutes into the second half, two consecutive three-pointers by Willis put the Highlanders within two scores of tying the game, leaving the score at 26-22, but the Big Green held them off with a turnover from Connor Boehm ’16, and baskets by John Golden ’15 and Maldunas pushed the lead back up to eight.

“During practice and [the] last game [vs. NJIT] we were focused on our offense and making sure we know the plays and that we are all on the same page running the same play,” Maldunas said.

NJIT made headlines earlier this season when the team upset then No. 17 University of Michigan 72-70. Lynn poured in 20 points and made six three-pointers that game, while Willis and Ky Howard both had 17 each. Michigan spiraled downward afterwards, going on a four-game losing streak and dropping out of the national rankings.

Moving forward, coach Cormier is proud of the team’s defensive improvement, but hopes that their defensive efforts can generate more offense for the Big Green.

“Sometimes we run good offense, but the ball just doesn’t go into the basket,” Cormier said. “But, on a consistent basis, I’ve been disappointed. I’m hoping that perhaps we can get a few easy baskets by way of our defense, and we’ve worked on that a little bit and improved on that since the last time we played Harvard [University].”

Next on the Big Green’s schedule will be a match against Harvard. The Crimson took the last meeting between the two in Dartmouth’s Ivy opener on Jan. 10 57-46.

“We are trying to improve our offense, and when we play Harvard this weekend, we want to be able to score much easier and more so that if we continue to play good defense we can come out of there with a W,”Mitola said.

The Ivy League rematch will take place in Cambridge, Mass. on Jan. 24 at 2 p.m.