Women’s basketball splits weekend, ends losing streak

by Alexander Agadjanian | 2/16/15 6:46pm

Looking to regain its early season form and snap a five-game losing streak, the Dartmouth women’s basketball team headed to New York this past weekend for the middle two games in its Ivy League schedule. While the first matchup ended in yet another loss — 66-46 to Cornell University — the women delivered a monumental victory in the second, edging Columbia University 61-54 in overtime.

In the first of a four-game road trip, the Big Green endured a calamitous start to its Friday night contest in Ithaca, New York. Facing against the Big Red, which stood third in the Ivy League at the time, Dartmouth had one of the worst starts to a game all season, smothered by an early Cornell offense that left the score at 12-0 in the first three minutes.

The efficiency and speed at which Cornell executed this early rampage were perhaps the most overwhelming aspects of their attack. With their hands on the ball, Cornell was absolutely clinical with its shot attempts — the team converted its first six field goals before finally missing at the 14:53 mark, paving the way for an extraordinary shooting display and a 28-11 lead through the midway point of the first half. To some extent, Cornell’s shooting was an aspect of the game over which Dartmouth had little control, but nevertheless the early stretch confined the Big Green to a deficit for the remainder of the night. Dartmouth failed to cut the margin to single digits for the rest of the night.

“[It was] really frustrating,” head coach Belle Koclanes said about the early part of the game. “We’ve had a tough stretch, we’ve just been working through some things as a team, with competing and bringing that competitive nature every day and showing up. And I felt really good about our prep going into Cornell. I felt great about where the team’s energy and focus was. And then the game starts, and it’s like, I don’t recognize you guys.”

In what has become customary on defense, the Big Green succumbed to opposing drives toward the basket throughout the night, especially during the early stages. All of Cornell’s first 10 points in its blazing opening stretch stemmed from penetrations into the paint, whether through layups on easy looks or generated foul shots. By the end of the first half, the Big Red had accumulated 14 points in the paint and 12 at the charity stripe.

On the offensive end, the Big Green was equally disoriented. The first possessions of the contest yielded the same dismal result, as Milica Toskovic ’15 turned the ball over twice in 31 seconds.

In only the first three minutes of the game, Dartmouth missed two field goals, turned the ball over three times and committed three fouls. Finally, Fanni Szabo ’17 broke through with a layup at 17:00 to put the Big Green on the scoreboard and netted eight of her team’s first 10 points. Szabo still found herself in a rough shooting stretch, making five of 12 attempted shots in the first half before going 0-5 in the second half and 5-17 on Friday night.

Turnover issues only further stalled the development of Dartmouth’s offense. With eight scattered across the first 10 minutes of play, the team could hardly attain any effective flow to the game, much less scoring opportunities.

This key opening stretch served as a microcosm for the rest of the game and effectively ended it early, as the Big Green could not match its foe’s efficiency and energy. At the end of the first period, Dartmouth found itself in an insurmountable 39-24 hole. Big Red forward Nia Marshall, the Ivy League’s leading scorer, led her team’s offensive charge at the halftime break, surpassing her 17.7 points per game average in just 15 minutes of play with 18 points.

The next 20 minutes of action brought more of the same, as Dartmouth’s shooting struggles worsened, dropping from a 31.4 field goal percentage in the first half to an 18.5 percentage in the second.

Cornell’s lead hovered around 20 points for the rest of the night, en route to a 66-46 final score as Dartmouth fell for the sixth straight game. Another disappointing shooting night — 25.8 percent from the field — as well as getting out-rebounded 43-34 contributed heavily to the loss.

Perhaps the one bright spot was the performance by center Tia Dawson ’15. The senior had a noitceably strong impact on the boards, collecting 11 rebounds and staying in the game for 28 minutes — an extremely positive sign for a senior plagued by leg injuries this year and averaging only 13.6 minutes per game.

The following day, Dartmouth traveled southeast to face Columbia, who was tied with the Big Green for the worst record in the Ivy League at the time. Despite playing the second half of a grueling road back-to-back set, Dartmouth secured a win for the first time in more than a month in its most dramatic conference game to date.

To start the contest, both teams had to struggle through clumsy offensive play. Szabo, who ultimately had one of her best games all season, acted as the spark plug early on. The sophomore represented the team sole’s source of offensive production in scoring Dartmouth’s first eight points of the game and 12 of its first 15.

On the other end of the court, the Big Green sunk into an offensive lull. Before Dawson hit a put-back layup at 4:16 to break a more than four-minute long drought — and tie the game at 19-19 — Dartmouth whad missed four shots and committed five fouls as a team since its last bucket.

The scoring margin stayed within two points for the remainder of the half. By halftime, the Big Green had managed to overcome a rough shooting night — 4-for-27 from the field — to build a one-point lead at 22-21, largely on the heels of Szabo’s early scoring outburst. Columbia, the second best free-throw shooting team in the Ivy League behind Dartmouth, uncharacteristically left several points on the board in the first half, going 7-for-15 from the charity line. The aberration later loomed large in such a close contest.

When the second half started, the Big Green’s slim lead vanished in an instant, as Lions forward Devon Roeper scored 13 seconds into the new half. Within the first minute, Columbia had snatched a 25-22 edge. Columbia’sTori Oliver, the third-leading scorer in the conference, played a big part in helping the Lions grow their lead to 35-29 eight minutes into the second half with eight points and two assists by the 12-minute mark.

Trailing by six and playing with a sense of urgency, Dartmouth bounced back forcefully, jump-starting a 12-2 run over the next four minutes to grab a 41-37 lead. Roland, who up until this point had been quiet, came to life with seven points during the key stretch. Her surge proved indicative of strong play to come from the junior.

For the rest of regulation, the game was as hotly contested as ever. The lead changed hands five times with ties at three different junctures before an overtime period was needed. Dartmouth barely avoided a crushing buzzer-beating loss, as Oliver failed to release a successful shot by only a few tenths of a second.

It took only a minute in overtime to realize that Roland was taking control of the game. After missing a layup 16 seconds in, the junior powered into the lane on the next position and sent the ball into the hoop off the backboard using sheer will. A few minutes later, it was time to put the game to bed.

With a little over a minute left to play, Dartmouth led 55-54. Amber Mixon ’18 fed the ball to Roland near the top of the key. As the rest of the team gravitated towards the weak side to set up an isolation play, Roland dribbled down the left side, drew a double team and released an off-balance shot that swished through the net. Toskovic’s four overtime points and Szabo’s pair rounded out a huge 61-54 win, but Roland’s assertiveness and imposing play were undoubtedly paramount in the overtime period.

“So far this season we’ve played really well in overtime, we’ve won all our [overtime] games,” Szabo said. “I think that’s a strength for us, we are really well-conditioned this season, so I think that helps a lot, and we were just focused in that part of the game.”

Throughout the entire course of the game, Szabo posted a terrific offensive performance. Playing in 43 of 45 possible minutes, the sophomore netted 27 points — albeit on 37.5 percent shooting — along with eight rebounds.

Dawson — still in the midst of healing a few ailments — once again proved vital in the low block for the Big Green. The senior established her presence near the basket in collecting nine rebounds and adding nine points as well.

“Here and there I might have some pain, but I’m just trying to play through it,” Dawson said of her injury. “I only have about three weekends left [in my senior year], so I’m just going to have to play through it.”

Dawson’s ability to play through the pain a not only shows her drive as a player, but provides a strong presence on the court for the team as a whole.

“With [Dawson], we don’t use the word ‘injury,’ we use ‘healing.’ We like to keep things on the positive,” Koclanes said. “She’s a presence out there defensively and offensively, we [say] that [Dawson] breathes life into us, because every time she gets an [offensive] board, you get new life in that possession.”

Coach Koclanes was particularly proud of the heart and competitive spirit her team showed on Saturday night.

“We had some hard conversations that are necessary... in challenging our players to become competitors... and say, ‘I’m a competitor, here’s what being a competitor means...this is the pride I have as a Dartmouth women’s basketball player,’” she said. “When I got into the locker room at the end of the game, our team was singing the fight song. And that makes me so proud, because they’re starting to understand. They’re starting to understand what wearing that uniform really means.”