Men’s basketball drops to 2-10 in disappointing conference play

by Baily Deeter | 3/4/19 2:15am

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Men’s basketball lost to Princeton and Penn this weekend and stand at last place in the Ivy League.

by Alex Fredman / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

The theme of the men’s basketball season has been losing close game after close game in Ivy League play, and to some degree, the trend continued this weekend. Princeton University defeated Dartmouth 77-76 in overtime on Friday night, while the University of Pennsylvania knocked off the Big Green more convincingly with a 65-51 win the following night. 

With the losses, the Big Green fall to 2-10 in Ivy League play and 11-17 overall. While that record is obviously disappointing, it doesn’t truly tell the story of the team’s season. Out of those 10 losses, seven of them came by five points or fewer, with six of them being by just one possession. With its 14-point win on Saturday night, Penn joined Yale University as just the second Ivy League team to beat the Big Green by more than five points. Regardless, the team still finds itself in last place in the conference. 

In some of its close losses throughout the season, the Big Green missed shots that could have tied or won the game. However, while the result was the same, the team made the plays it needed to down the stretch against Princeton. 

On Friday, Dartmouth trailed 60-52 with 1:22 left, but a Brendan Barry ’20 3-pointer, a Princeton turnover and a Chris Knight ’21 layup narrowed the deficit to three points. The Big Green got the ball back for the last possession, and James Foye ’20 buried a clutch three-pointer from the left wing to tie the game at 60.  

“Everyone in the gym probably counted us out in the last minute, and they responded,” head coach David McLaughlin said. “They made tough plays and they played together.” 

Unfortunately for the Big Green, the positive momentum didn’t carry into overtime. Princeton scored the first eight points of the overtime period, putting Dartmouth in familiar territory. This time, it could only make up seven points of the eight-point deficit.  

“We’re always fighting,” Aaryn Rai ’21 said. “We’re going to compete no matter who we play against. One of these games, we’re going to make that jump. We’re right there.” 

While the team fell short in overtime, it didn’t lack for electrifying plays during the period. Knight scored five points and had a key block in a span of 29 seconds, Foye hit another clutch 3-pointer and Rai scored six points in the final 18 seconds of the game. Rai scored a career-high 21 points and had a few key steals in arguably his best performance this season. 

“[Rai’s] a really great player, and he went through a really bad injury at the beginning of the season that he’s honestly just coming back from,” McLaughlin said. “Aaryn’s got to realize that, if he wants to be really good, he can. He’s a high-level college basketball player.” 

On top of Rai’s solid effort, Knight scored 22 and Barry scored 17 to pace the offense against the Tigers, whom McLaughlin called the best defensive team in the Ivy League. Princeton, at 8-4 in Ivy League play, clinched a spot in the Ivy League tournament, which will feature the top four teams in terms of conference record. And yet Dartmouth, six games back at 2-10, was just one point away from beating them in both of the teams’ matchups. 

Penn currently sits at 5-7 and will need a mini-miracle in order to make the conference tournament, but you wouldn’t have known it from watching Saturday’s game. The Quakers dominated the Big Green in the second half, building up a lead as large as 24 points before winning by 14.  

“They played tougher than us, and they played more together basketball,” McLaughlin said. “When they made a little run, we lost our identity a little bit, and we had a hard time grasping that back. We took shots we don’t normally take, and we weren’t getting to stops we normally would.” 

The halftime score of 27-24 seemed to point to another thrilling finish, but a double-double from star A.J. Brodeur and a few timely 3s gave the Quakers an insurmountable lead. 

Brodeur scored a whopping 36 points in the first meeting between the two teams, so his 19-point effort tonight was more modest in comparison. However, he had 13 rebounds, many of which contributed to key second-chance points that made all the difference for Penn. Eleven of Penn’s 27 first-half points came off of offensive rebounds, and the Quakers ended up outscoring the Big Green 15-2 on second-chance points. Additionally, double-teaming Brodeur opened up opportunities for his teammates, with three other Quakers scoring in double-digits. 

Foye and Rai contributed 13 and 12 points, respectively, but otherwise, the Big Green were quiet on offense. Dartmouth’s 51 points was its lowest point total of the entire season. 

On an otherwise disappointing night, a bright spot was the senior night ceremony. Guilien Smith ’19, as the only senior, took center stage as he was honored for his four-year career. In his final game at Leede Arena, Smith made two 3-pointers. One of those came in the final 30 seconds, a fitting end to a career that would have been even more successful if not for several injuries. 

“Coming in as a freshman, I thought he was the best player on our team,” Foye said. “What he’s been playing through is remarkable. He has fractures in both ankles and a sprained Achilles, but he’s been a warrior.” 

Now that it has been officially eliminated from the Ivy League tournament and any other postseason tournament such as the National Invitational Tournament or the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, the Big Green only have two games left on the season. The team will hit the road to take on Columbia University next Friday and Cornell University the day after before the focus shifts to the 2019-20 season. 

Dartmouth is the only Ivy League team that hasn’t regularly started a senior this year, meaning that it will return its entire starting lineup next year. With the addition of Trevon Ary-Turner ’21 and an extra year of experience under the team’s belt, the Big Green should be a threat in conference play next season.  

“I know for a fact that this season is not an indicator of what next season’s going to be like,” Smith said. “It’s a building block. Next year the games we’re losing by one or two points are the games we’re going to be winning by one or two points.” 

Smith, while understandably sad that he won’t be a part of the team next year, has full confidence in his teammates to get the job done in his absence. 

“They’ll take it from here,” he said.