Men’s basketball snaps five-game losing streak

by Ray Lu | 2/15/15 6:06pm

The men’s basketball team returned home to Leede Arena this past weekend for the first leg of a two-weekend Ivy League homestand. The Big Green (9-13, 2-6 Ivy) showed mixed results over the weekend, taking a heartbreaking loss in overtime to Cornell University (12-12, 4-4 Ivy) 81-72 before stifling Columbia University (11-11, 3-5 Ivy) in a 61-49 victory.

The weekend pitted the top two scorers in the Ivy League — Maodo Lo of Columbia, who averages 16.2 points per game, and Cornell’s Shonn Miller, who follows closely behind with 16.1— against Dartmouth’s stingy defense, which leads the Ivies with 7.6 steals per game.

In the end, restricting those two scorers’ access to the net was the key difference between winning and losing.

Against the Big Red, Dartmouth started strong and opened with an 11-2 lead less than three minutes into the game, and the men maintained a lead over Cornell throughout much of the match. During the run, Miles Wright ’18 chipped in two three-pointers and Connor Boehm ’16 added a three and a jumper to put the visitors at an early disadvantage.

Once again, Wright led the Big Green in scoring for the weekend. After breaking out with an average of 20.5 points per game last weekend and being named Ivy League Rookie of the Week, the freshman finished with 19 points against Cornell and led both teams with 16 against Columbia.

“I’m more comfortable with the offense now,” Wright said. “I know my role, and I know the coaching staff is more comfortable with me and I know my teammates are more comfortable with me taking the shots that I’m taking. When everyone else believes in you, it makes it easy to believe in yourself.”

After Dartmouth’s hot start, Cornell crawled back into the game. With five minutes left in the first half, Cornell’s Robert Hatter sank a three to give the Big Red its first lead of the night with 25-23. The Cornell sophomore finished the night tying Wright’s game-high 19 points.

After a tight first half, the two teams entered the locker room tied at 31-31.

The Big Green pulled away from the gridlock and opened the second period with an 8-4 run on the strength of a Wright jumper and free throws from co-captain Gabas Maldunas ’15 and John Golden ’15.

The second half played out similarly to the first. Dartmouth held a slight margin for most of the period but never led by more than six. Down six with five minutes to play, Cornell’s Hatter converted a four-point play to spark a late rally from the Big Red, leading to a 60-60 tie with four minutes left in the game.

With 1:41 to go, Cornell’s Miller hit a jumper to give Cornell its first lead, 64-62, since the opening seconds of the second half. Dartmouth took a timeout, but it failed to help the team recuperate and they returned to the court with misses by both Golden and Malik Gill ’16. Maldunas managed to come away with the offensive rebound on Gill’s attempt and pulled the score even on an impressive layup with only 27 seconds remaining. On the final possession of regular time, Cornell’s Miller attempted a buzzer-beater, but failed to close the match when the ball bounced off the rim.

Neck and neck at 64 points, the two teams headed to overtime, Dartmouth’s first since edging Northern Illinois University 58-55 on Dec. 19. Cornell lost its only prior overtime game of the season to Saint Peter’s University 59-52 on Dec. 28.

Over the course of the game, Cornell led for only 8:33, compared to Dartmouth’s 31:37 time spent ahead. The Big Red, however, peaked when it mattered most and dominated overtime play. Cornell opened scoring on a layup by senior Devin Cherry and a free throw by Miller. Dartmouth didn’t score its first basket until Alex Mitola ’16 hit a jumper with 3:34 to go, cutting the score to 66-67.

“We collapsed a little bit and we didn’t hit shots when we needed to,” Maldunas said.

After Mitola’s three, Cornell pulled away with a 7-0 run, capped off by a three. Wright hit a three to pull the game within four with just under a minute remaining, but the Big Green wouldn’t find the bottom of the net for the rest of the game. Cornell sealed the affair by hitting 5-for-6 from the line in the final minute.

The game featured strong offensive performances from both teams. Wright led the way for Dartmouth with 11 points in the first half en route to his 19 for the overall game. Maldunas posted a double-double with 14 points and 12 boards, and Boehm and Tommy Carpenter ’16 had 10 points each.

With the loss of the previous night still smarting, Dartmouth opened Saturday’s affair against Columbia with all cylinders firing.

The Big Green rattled off a stunning 19-2 run from the first whistle into the opening eight minutes of the game. During the run, Dartmouth forced four turnovers and limited the Lions to 1-for-8 shooting. Wesley Dickinson ’17 started for an unavailable Boehm and immediately made an impact, blocking Columbia’s Lo’s opening three-point attempt.

“I think the main reason why [the opening run] happened was [that] we switched up our defense, and we started the game playing zone instead of man-to-man, and I think Columbia wasn’t really expecting that,” Maldunas said.

Columbia bent but didn’t break, responding with its own 11-2 run on the strength of two threes by senior Steve Frankoski. Slowly, the Lions whittled down nearly all of Dartmouth’s early lead. After a layup by Maldunas with 5:48 left in the first, Columbia rattled off seven unanswered points and an overall 12-1 spurt, bringing the score to 27-26 with 1:27 to go in the half. A free throw by Cole Harrison ’17 gave the Big Green a two-point lead heading into halftime.

The second half opened with both teams in a gridlock. Dartmouth and Columbia traded buckets, and neither led by more than four points for the first 12 minutes. With 7:41 left in the game, a Gill three opened the floodgates for eight unanswered Dartmouth points. Wright drained a long ball, Mitola and Gill hit free throws and Maldunas topped the run with a layup, bringing the score to 50-37 with just under four minutes to go.

With three minutes left to play, Columbia’s Frankoski hit the last of his four triples to pull the margin to 10, but the Lions would not get any closer for the rest of the game. Dartmouth held off all offensive efforts by going 8-for-10 from the line in the last two minutes of the game.

Mitola credited both the team’s defensive adjustments and offense in the win.

“We played a matchup zone defense, and it worked very well,” Mitola said. “We also came out hitting shots and that propelled us out to a big lead. They came back and took the lead in the second half, but we showed some resilience and got the lead back and finished it off down the stretch.”

In addition to Wright’s 16 points, Mitola had 13 — including three triples, and Gill chipped in 10 — going 7-for-10 from the charity stripe. Maldunas fell just short of his second straight double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds, but the senior became the 26th player in Big Green history to score 1,000 points with his final point of the game, a free throw. Maldunas is the first Big Green player to reach the milestone in six years.

“I know [Mitola] and [Boehm] and [Wright] maybe are on the path to get to 1,000 points as well, but to be the first guy of our generation in the second stint of [Cormier’s] coaching career is also a great feeling,” Maldunas said.

The Big Green continues their homestand with rematches against Princeton University on Saturday and the University of Pennsylvania on Sunday. Both games tip off at 7 p.m. in Leede Arena.