Men's basketball blows first half lead over Yale, beats Brown

by Alexander Agadjanian | 2/14/16 6:30pm

Desperate to escape a four-game losing streak that has cast a pall over prospects for conference success, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team entered last weekend with a chance to prove itself against the best team in the Ivy League, as well as a contest against a more evenly matched side. While the former case saw the Big Green (8-14, 2-6) relinquish a once-stable lead to lose 75-65 to Yale University (17-5, 8-0) on Friday, the team rebounded the following night to decisively triumph over Brown University (7-15, 2-6) 87-70.

Friday night’s game against Yale saw the repeat of an increasingly familiar, unsettling development, which at this point epitomizes Dartmouth’s downfall in conference play. Having led for 31:27 of the total 40 minutes and all but 39 seconds in the first half, the Big Green faltered over the last 10 minutes of the game.

Such a late-game collapse has been a hallmark for the team in Ivy play, as Friday’s contest marked the fourth in seven conference games that Dartmouth seemingly attained control but failed to properly close out the game. In its eight conference matchups, the Big Green has cumulatively led for 49 percent of the game clock and trailed for 44 percent — after Saturday, that somehow translated to just a 2-6 record.

Top conference talent Justin Sears proved a steady force throughout the night for Yale, posting a double-double, nearly attained at halftime, with 21 points and 13 rebounds in dominating the paint. The play of guard Makai Mason also contributed to the Bulldog victory. Putting a putrid 0-7 first half shooting mark behind him, the sophomore exploded with 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second stanza, draining four threes with 6-9 second-half shooting to spur a successful comeback bid.

Yale’s second half resurgence can just as easily be ascribed to some regression to its shot-making mean. Entering the day with a league-best .474 shooting percentage, the Bulldogs went .276 from the floor during the first 20 minutes. Yet that mark drastically improved thereafter, as the visitors shot .625 to close the game, thus pulling the team’s game average closer to its excellent season average.

For Dartmouth, Evan Boudreaux ’19 shined once more, scoring 11 points in the first 10 minutes en route to finishing with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Miles Wright ’18 enjoyed more freedom on offense as well, aggressively capitalizing on his chances in converting three deep balls toward his 15 point total.

Across a span of 10 minutes in the second half, Yale gradually built up a 21-6 run to open a double-digit advantage. Securing its first lead since the start of the game under the nine-minute mark, the Bulldogs hardly looked back thereafter, robbing the home team and its fans of all the energy and momentum in the arena.

Permitting Yale’s abrupt takeover of the game was six sloppy turnovers by Dartmouth in a span of five minutes. While end-game offensive woes has contributed much to closeout failures, Wright placed greater weight on defensive fallouts, which precluded any chance to keep up with Yale’s surges.

“It just comes down to defensive stops,” Wright said. “When a team’s making a run, the only way to end [it] is to make a stop. It’s not about how many times you score.”

Reeling after squandering another potential victory, the Big Green made sure less than 24 hours later it would not leave the weekend further entrenched in tribulations. Dominating the visiting Bears from start to finish, Dartmouth finally managed to snap a five-game losing skid by leading for more than 38 minutes of total game time.

Playing the whole game and not having any lapses the last eight to ten minutes like in team’s previous games keyed the closeout effort on Saturday according to guard Taylor Johnson ’18.

“A big part of that is defense, and offense is to not hold it back too much,” Johnson said.

Boudreaux concocted yet another stupendous effort in leading all scorers with 25 points, 17 of which came in the second half, and brought down 13 rebounds to complete the double-double — attaining one for the second straight day in a row, and eighth time in the season.

Yet that belied an all-around balanced offensive display by the Big Green, which included all five starters netting at least five points by halftime. Four Dartmouth players left the night in double figures. Johnson, who in each passing game seemingly adopts a greater offensive role, represented a potent force all night. The sophomore had success on drives to the rim throughout the game and torched Brown from three-point land with three long-range shots to set a new career high of 22 points, adding four assists for good measure.

A stark rebounding advantage for Dartmouth proved essential to the victory as well. Having finished the first half with a plus-11 differential on the boards, the Big Green continued to dominate the glass for the rest of the night, posting a 43-21 edge — 17 from the offensive end — when the final horn sounded.

Despite facing one of the Ivy League’s best big men and all-time shot-block leader in Cedric Kuakumensah — who himself had six first half blocks and 15 points for the game fueled by a hot touch from deep — Dartmouth nevertheless achieved control near the basket on another dimension, building a plus-10 points in the paint margin by the end of the night.

“Tonight we played very good team defense,” head coach Paul Cormier said after the game. “We’re not a program that has the most talented [and] most athletic team on the floor, but we can still be the best team on the floor. And if we all buy in and play that way, we’re good.”

Later this week, Dartmouth will visit Ithaca, New York to play Cornell University on Friday night at 7 p.m., and travel to New York City the next day to face off against one of the better conference teams in Columbia University at 7 p.m.