Men’s basketball leaves Harvard crimson-faced in Ivy League opener
Chris Knight '21 dunked the ball during Dartmouth's 81-63 win over Harvard Saturday night. Knight scored 20 points in the game.
The temperature in Hanover may have dipped below zero degrees on Saturday night, but inside Leede arena, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team was red hot. The Big Green, shooting 68.1 percent from the field, defeated Harvard University in a 81-63 thumping. Forward Chris Knight ’21 dropped in eight of 10 shots for a 20-point night, and guard Ian Sistare ’20 netted 13 points and brought in six rebounds.
At this time last season, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team was 4-9, limping into an Ivy League season in which it only ended up winning three additional games. However, with a winning record and a statement victory in its Ivy League opener under its belt, the Big Green has much more reason for optimism in the 2018-19 season.
After Saturday night’s victory, Dartmouth stands at 10-7. It finished non-conference play with a respectable 9-7 record, nearly defeating former NCAA tournament powerhouse Davidson College and handling teams like Boston University and Sacred Heart University.
The name of the game is to score points, and Dartmouth has done just that by shooting from 3-point range as well as just about any other team in the country. The Big Green currently rank eighth in the entire NCAA in 3-point shooting percentage, making an astonishing 40.2 percent of their triples.
The Big Green have a trio of sharpshooters who have helped the team be so successful with the long ball. Brendan Barry ’20 is currently shooting 51.8 percent, while James Foye ’20 and Sistare are shooting 49.3 percent and 48.4 percent, respectively. Incredibly, Barry has the highest 3-point shooting percentage of any player in the entire NCAA.
The team’s shooting success is the primary reason for its early-season surge. However, it’s going to be a challenge for the Big Green to shoot at the same clip in Ivy League play.
“Other teams know that we’ve been shooting the ball well,” Foye said. “They’ve been pressuring us a lot, so we’ll need to get better at handling pressure and finding other ways to score.”
Even against familiar foe Harvard, the Big Green shot above 50 percent (11 for 21) from beyond the arc. If the team continues its stellar offensive habits, head coach David McLaughlin believes its shooting success should take care of itself.
“It all goes back to pace of play and valuing the basketball,” McLaughlin said. “If we can get a shot off on most possessions, run the floor and have good spacing, that’s going to continue to open up the 3-point line for us.”
With only Ivy League games remaining on the schedule, the competition is sure to be much tougher going forward. A few teams have already established themselves as contenders to win the conference and secure the league tournament’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University have also hit the 10-win mark, with the Quakers somehow toppling defending national champion Villanova University. Princeton is also a contender with a 9-5 record and an upset victory over Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona State University under its belt. But the team is certainly aware of the challenges it will face in conference play.
“We have to raise our level of preparation, raise our level of improvement each day, and really understand how good this league is and how ready we have to be each night,” McLaughlin said.
While the aforementioned teams have established themselves, it’s important for the the Big Green to prepare and perform the same way each game.
“We want to treat all Ivy League opponents equally,” Barry said. “Penn, Harvard and Yale are three of the top contenders, but we’re going to treat each game the same way.”
The Big Green’s next game is also against Harvard, as it gets a chance to secure a season sweep of the Crimson in Cambridge. The team has two full weeks to prepare for the second game, as the second Harvard game won’t be played until Jan. 26.
“We’ll emphasize skill work, recovery, execution [and] stamina,” McLaughlin said. “We have to take advantage of that and keep practicing at a high level to get guys better.”
Having the extra time to prepare for Harvard and for the rest of Ivy League play will be helpful, and keeping practices competitive and high-tempo will be key so the team is ready to go when games ramp up.
“What’s great about our team is that we’re really deep,” Foye said. “Our top 15 [players are] really talented, so we’ll get after each other in practice to stay as sharp as we can be.”
After the second Harvard game, Ivy League play ramps up significantly. Dartmouth has a prime opportunity to establish itself as a threat with four consecutive home games versus Yale, Brown, Cornell University and Columbia University. McLaughlin emphasized how the home-court advantage could get the Big Green off to a hot start, especially with an electric atmosphere.
“I would really encourage all students, faculty and staff to come out to our games,” McLaughlin said. “We have an arena in Leede where, if we can fill the seats, it’s a very difficult place to play.”
The schedule gets considerably more difficult later in the month, as the team has four consecutive away games against four of the conference’s top teams in Penn, Princeton, Yale and Brown. However, the team is confident in its habits and its abilities to compete with any opponent.
“If we have great habits, defend, value the basketball and rebound, that allows us to [compete] in any game we play,” McLaughlin said.
The teams with the four best records in conference play will advance to the Ivy League tournament, which takes place in early March. Last year, Penn defeated Harvard in a 68-65 championship game thriller.
The winner of that tournament then advances to the NCAA tournament. In the past, Ivy League teams have made some noise in the tournament. Cornell, Harvard and Yale have all won tournament games in the past nine years, with Cornell making the Sweet 16 in 2010. Last year, Penn led top-seeded Kansas University for much of the first half before eventually falling to the Final Four-bound Jayhawks.
If the Big Green is able to sneak into the Ivy League tournament, its focus would then shift to becoming the first Dartmouth team in the school’s history to make the prestigious NCAA tournament.
“You try to take it one step at a time, but you always think and dream that’s the place our program can get to,” Foye said. “We definitely dream about it, but the way to get there and do something that hasn’t been done before is working our butts off to get there. But it keeps us motivated for sure.”