Men's basketball surrenders early lead

by Alexander Agadjanian | 1/10/16 8:30pm

In the Ivy League opener for both schools, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team seized control early on in Saturday afternoon’s contest against Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. Surrendering a nine-point lead from its early run, the team kept the game close throughout the second half, until the Crimson (7-8, 1-0) pulled away in the final three minutes of the game to topple the Big Green (4-9, 0-1) by a score of 77-70. For almost the entirety of the game, guard Miles Wright ’18 led all scorers, finishing with 23 points off an efficient 8-14 shooting clip and 5-8 from three-point land. Evan Boudreaux ’19 added support throughout the game, totaling a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. “It was just a heck of a college basketball game and unfortunately they made some shots down the stretch,” head coach Paul Cormier said. “We got good shots, we weren’t quite able to put them down. They get a couple timely breaks that we weren’t able to bounce back from.” Cormier said that he was very proud of the team and thought that the players played hard and compete. He added that if the team continued to play like it did on Saturday night, it would continue to improve and become a very good basketball team in the near future. The effort of the Boudreaux-Wright duo, however, could not outlast what the Crimson put up on the other end. Agunwa Okolie scored a game and career high 29 points on the day, shooting 9-11 from the field and 10-10 from the charity stripe, with seven of those points coming in the final minute of play. Fellow senior Patrick Steeves provided a lethal contribution from deep, netting four of his five three-point attempts on his way to posting 20 points, also a career best. Moreover, Harvard — a five-time defending conference champion, but picked to finish fourth in the preseason media poll — generated most of its scoring opportunities near the rim on Saturday, accruing a dominant 38-22 edge over Dartmouth in points in the paint. Perhaps a product of this focus on high-percentage shot-taking, the Crimson shot .528 from the field — well above their .458 season average entering Saturday. At the start of the opening half, almost all of the offensive chances for both squads came near the rim, making for a struggle inside the paint early on. That changed shortly thereafter, when Wright began to get hot from the field — the start of an excellent day for the sophomore. Having thrown down two dunks, netted a three-pointer and added a steal in under a one-minute span, Wright began to establish early signs of control for the Big Green. Boudreaux helped in this early effort as well, as the freshman contributed a seven-point burst in less than three minutes at one point in the middle of the first half. Wright and Boudreaux combined for 18 of Dartmouth’s first 20 points. Furthermore, over the first 10 minutes of action, the Big Green was shooting .643 from the field. “First league game, an away game, it’s always fun playing at Harvard, they got a good crowd, so we were just really inspired to play,” Wright said about the early success. At the 5:40 mark, the Big Green dominance reached its apex thanks to two Kevin Crescenzi ’16 free throw makes, culminating in a nine-point lead, the largest the team would hold all afternoon. An in-game defensive improvement by Dartmouth factored heavily into this result as well. After Harvard scored near the rim at will in the early going — almost all off post-ups, lay-ins, dunks, or short shots — the visitors gradually sharpened up on defense as the first half went along. The Big Green refused to yield any easy shots, either notching more blocks or fouling Crimson players. For a 5:11 minute stretch during the first half, Harvard scored just one point. “It was more of a team effort, especially on defense,” Boudreaux said after the game. “We knew they had some really good post players and we had to use some different schemes to slow them down, and for a good majority of the game it worked.” But what was once a nine-point advantage with four minutes left in the half evaporated by the break, as Harvard reeled off a 13-4 run to close out the first 20 minutes of play. Freshman sharpshooter Corey Johnson capped the swift comeback with a three-point jumpshot — several feet off the line — at the buzzer. For as much as Dartmouth controlled the opening half, their rival quickly stripped a critical, comfortable lead in an away game environment. At the half, Wright led all scorers with 15 points with a sharp 6-8 shooting from the field bolstered by three long-range conversions. On the other end, two Crimson players reached double digits at the break, with hot-shooting Steeves — also three long balls to his name — paving the way with 13 points. While the two teams posted similar overall stats by the halftime break, Harvard had left five points on the board — missing four of nine free throws — but benefited from 15 points from bench players. To commence the second half, it seemed as though Harvard would run away with the game after springing out to a 9-2 run in the first four minutes. Yet following a Steeves three-pointer as part of this spurt, Wright quickly and decisively responded with another three-ball of his own — just 19 seconds later — to strike back. For nearly the remainder of the contest, the two teams were inseparable. Forward Brandon McDonnell ’16 made two free throws to grant Dartmouth its first lead of the second half eight minutes in, but Harvard fought back to regain a slim lead. From the 15:11 mark until 3:06, no more than three points ever stood between the two schools. This precise juncture three minutes left in the game proved the most pivotal. An and-one play by Steeves made it a two-possession lead for the Crimson and 53 seconds later, off a quick 7-0 run, Harvard had grown its lead to 70-62 with minutes remaining. A spirited effort by the Big Green cut the deficit to three on two separate occasions in the dying embers of the game, but the Crimson’s Okolie canceled out Dartmouth’s gains both times. The senior could not have fulfilled closeout duties any better on Saturday in netting seven points in the last 0:52, as well as scoring 14 of his 29 points in the final 5:13 of the contest. Cormier said that Okolie drilled the open three at the end of the game while being double teamed as part of the Big Green’s defensive scheme. The bucket put the Crimson up five and forced the Big Green to play catch up. Okolie was just 1-5 from three leading up to Saturday’s game. “[Harvard] missed some shots in the first half they normally make,” Cormier noted, “and in the second half, they made them. Down the stretch, they made some shots sometimes they don’t make. Okolie really hurt us. He hit a huge three, it was probably the backbreaker of the game.” The Big Green takes on Canisius College on Tuesday in Leede Arena. Last season Dartmouth qualified for the postseason for the first time in 56 years, only to fall to the Golden Griffins in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The rematch tips off at 7:00 p.m.