Men’s basketball drops two Ivy League games this weekend

by Alexander Agadjanian | 2/8/16 6:30pm

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Men's basketball has lost four straight games — all conference games.
by Seamore Zhu / The Dartmouth

Since 1959, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team has managed to win a mere total of eight games combined in its annual away game trips to the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University. Last weekend’s trek down the East Coast brought no change to that pattern, as the Big Green (7-13, 1-5) let another game get away against Penn (8-11, 2-3) 71-64, and fell behind early against Princeton (14-5, 4-1) to lose 83-70, wrapping up a mid-conference four-game losing streak that leaves the team tied for last place in the Ivy League.

Friday night played out in an eerily familiar fashion for Dartmouth. Similar to all but one of its previous Ivy games, the Big Green engaged in a tight affair — in which at one point under the five-minute mark, the margin was four points or less. Yet for the third time in this stretch, the team could not close out a close game.

Leading 59-56 up until 4:43 remaining, the Big Green once again failed to ward off its opponent’s last push, succumbing to a 17-5 Quaker surge to close out the contest, as Penn claimed its first conference victory of the season.

“I think we definitely tense up at the end of games,” guard Malik Gill ’16 said of the recurring theme.

Gill said that the team leads often with strong performances in the middle of the second halves. He added that the team then gets a little too comfortable, allowing its opponents to make runs.

“That’s a real big issue because I don’t know if we have that killer instinct that the really good teams have,” Gill said.

After scoring just two points in the first half, 6’11” Penn center Darien Nelson-Henry dominated the paint in the latter 20 minutes of play, upending the game’s balance more than any other player on the court. With no Dartmouth defender close to containing him, the senior scored 17 of 19 total points in the second half, during which he made all seven of his shots and added three free throws. As Penn went from minus-four to a plus-11 point differential from one half to the next, Nelson-Henry decidedly spearheaded this effort.

The performances of Quaker freshmen Jake Silpe and Jackson Donahue also proved critical, as the two guards recorded 13 points each, and combined for five key three-pointers scattered throughout the night. The deep threat complemented the team’s inside game nicely, allowing the home team to never get too far behind on the scoreboard. With both sides ensnared in a two-minute scoring drought in the final stages of the game, Silpe drove to the hoop and scored, adding a free throw off a foul to catapult Penn ahead 62-59 — a lead that held for the rest of the night.

The Big Green was down 64-61 with 44 seconds left and called a timeout, Dartmouth faced this same situation one week ago against Cornell. Just like last Saturday, the offense coming out of the timeout culminated in a quick, forced three-point shot that all but relinquished Dartmouth’s last true opportunity in the game.

Taking control of the game early, entering halftime up four and possessing an edge for much of the second half, the Big Green led for nearly 28 of the total 40 minutes of play. But for the second straight game, Dartmouth lost despite leading for nearly 70 percent of the game clock.

Top scorer Evan Boudreaux ’19 assumed the lion’s share of offensive workload again, this time taking it to new heights. The freshman notched a career-high 27 points on 10-21 shooting, along with eight rebounds. His seven turnovers, however, nearly gave him an undesirable triple-double. Taylor Johnson ’18, increasingly emerging as a potent three-point threat, had two deep balls en route to a career night with 16 points.

Playing against an upper echelon Ivy squad less than 24 hours later, the team’s fortunes hardly improved the following night. Unable to stem an early opposing onslaught and incapable of defending a fierce three-point shot, the Big Green fell to the Tigers 83-70 in a contest at one point seemed destined for a blowout.

Three different Princeton players finished the night with at least 14 points, as Steven Cook led all scorers with 27 of 10-15 shooting and one of the top Ivy freshman, Henry Caruso, added 17. Each part of this trio of top scorers converted at least three long-range shots, fueling an explosive three-point attack captured by a scintillating 13-24 mark from deep.

The greater challenge in playing Princeton, noted by forward Connor Boehm ’16, is the team’s ability to threaten defenses with options beyond the three-point shot.

“They’ve been running a similar offense for decades, with lots of back cuts, and if you take away the back cuts, they stop and shoot a three,” Boehm said. “We initially did a good job of taking [the back cuts] away, which ended up giving them better looks from three, and they buried us from there.”

On the other end, Boudreaux finished a rebound shy of a double-double, paving his team’s offensive path with 17 points. Johnson chipped in 13 to complete one of the better weekends of his career.

The early stages of the night left an indelible imprint on the rest of the game. Within the first 10 minutes, Princeton offense had already erupted to a 34-12 lead. After missing its first three-point shot, the Tigers proceeded to unleash an unassailable three-point barrage of eight consecutive long ball makes in less than eight minutes.

Yet as Princeton slightly cooled off, Dartmouth charged back, finishing the half on a 12-0 run to make it 46-35. That comeback trail expanded into the second half, as the Big Green cut its deficit to single digits less than a minute in. Getting within seven at 8:46, the visitors relentlessly pursued the Tigers, who matched each potentially key offensive basket with one of their own. Though the margin trickled back down to single digits within the final two minutes, Princeton sealed the deal late for the win.

Head coach Paul Cormier said that the team faced two very good teams in two very tough venues this weekend, and the first loss “took a little wind out of our sails,” but the players still showed a lot of resolve.

“I think this weekend the kids played hard enough to win,” Cormier said, reflecting on the two contests. “We’re still struggling [at] the ends of games to find a way to close them out.”

The Big Green return to Hanover this week, taking on the best team in the conference, Yale University, on Friday at 7 p.m., and Brown University the following day at the same time.