Men’s basketball loses back-to-back OT thrillers

by Alexander Agadjanian | 2/28/16 6:30pm

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After dropping two road games, the men’s basketball team finds itself in sixth place in the Ivy League.
by Seamore Zhu / The Dartmouth

In each of its two games this past weekend, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team possessed a lead with under 10 seconds to play in regulation. Incredibly, both of these contests entered an overtime period — marking the team’s two closest games of the season in a span of 24 hours — and returned devastating outcomes, as the Big Green failed to close out potential victories by losing to Brown University (8-18, 3-9) 84-83 (OT) and top-tier Yale University (20-6, 11-1) 76-71 (OT), dropping to one game out of last place in the conference standings.

With six seconds left in its first overtime game of the season on Friday night, Dartmouth, trailing Brown 84-83, called a timeout and then another to regroup and prepare for a last-gasp effort. Guilien Smith ’19, who had drilled two 3-pointers in the overtime period to help overcome multiple deficits and played well at the end of regulation, handled the ball off the inbounds. Weaving his way down the right side of the lane, the freshman managed to release a shot between two Brown defenders — one of which was the Ivy League’s all-time leading shot-blocker Cedric Kuakumensah — but just barely missed off the front of the rim, as the final buzzer sounded.

“I was supposed to pop up to get the ball and come off a screen and drive it to the hoop, we wanted a strong drive to finish out the game because we were only down one,” Smith said about the play. “It was a little crowded, it was a pretty tough shot. If I had that shot again I would’ve made it.”

Bears guard Steven Spieth led all scorers with 21 points of an excellent 6-7 shooting mark, and did so in only 26 minutes of action after having fouled out with 3:31 left in the second half. Crucially, the junior scored 12 points in the first half — and all four of his 3-pointers during the game — to power his team’s offense, which, during that first period, shot nearly 10 percentage points worse than its field goal and 3-point averages entering the day.

Yet Brown markedly improved in both of those shooting aspects upon entering the second half, contributing in large part to a lead for nearly 70 percent of total game clock on the night. Spieth’s fellow backcourt teammates in Tavon Blackmon and Obi Okolie particularly experienced a second half resurgence, netting 27 of their combined 35 points in the second and overtime periods. Kuakumensah assumed his usual formidable inside presence in posting a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

By the end of the hard-fought contest, five different players posted double-digit scoring outputs for the Big Green. Evan Boudreaux ’19 continued to pave the way with 20 points and 9 rebounds, and showed further strides in his 3-point ability in going 3-3. The more Boudreaux eschews midrange shots in favor of threes, the better his own and his team’s offense becomes.

At the 9:06 mark in the second half, it seemed as though Brown would run away with the contest after having opened up the largest lead any side had at 55-44. Over the next five minutes, Dartmouth would mount a swift and successful comeback, embarking on a 16-6 run to cut the deficit down to one. Minutes later, Connor Boehm ’16 knocked down a three to give the Big Green its first lead in almost 16 minutes off a Cameron Smith ’18 assist.

But that was hardly Smith’s only contribution. Towards the end of regulation and through overtime, the sophomore and Guilien Smith thrived on offense, as Dartmouth turned to its youthful guard play for guidance in bridging the scoring gap with Brown. Cameron Smith scored seven points in the last six minutes of the second half, while Guilien Smith did most of his damage in overtime, as both finished with 10 points on the night.

Guilien Smith’s aforementioned end-of-overtime play out of a timeout might not have been necessary had the Big Green taken a similarly prudent decision earlier in the night.

Stunned that a multi-possession lead with under 30 seconds left evaporated after two Brown 3-pointers made for a tie game, Dartmouth opted not to advance the ball enough to call a timeout with nine seconds left. Instead, the team frantically pushed the ball upcourt only to quickly turn it over despite having two timeouts at its disposal to settle the possession down and generate a better opportunity.

“[Head coach Paul Cormier] was trying to call a timeout, but the ref didn’t see him,” guard Miles Wright ’18 said about the situation. “Our point guard couldn’t hear that he was calling a timeout, so he couldn’t make the call.”

The following night in New Haven brought an eerily similar course of events and outcome. Facing a Yale team neck-and-neck with Princeton University in the conference standings as both vie for the conference crown, Dartmouth had a chance to play spoiler for the second consecutive year against Yale — last year the Big Green won an end-of-season game against the Bulldogs, who instead of winning the Ivy League were forced into a playoff game it lost to Harvard University.

Battling back from an early second half deficit to overtake Yale on the scoreboard and building its largest lead of six halfway through the final period, that spoiler role increasingly became a definite possibility. With a fervent home crowd behind its team on senior night, however, the Bulldogs narrowed the margin as the game wound down. Following the 4:30 mark in the second half, the two teams proved inseparable, as neither secured more than a single possession lead thereafter.

With the lead swinging back and forth, Wright drilled a cold-blooded three with 22 seconds left that put Dartmouth up 62-61. Seconds later, the sophomore stole the ball away from Makai Mason. After Wright hit just one of two free throws on the ensuing foul, Mason would immediately atone for his mistake, bringing the ball upcourt in a hurry and connecting on a midrange jumpshot to the tie the game. The Big Green had a shot to pull ahead, but another panicked final possession expectedly resulted in no points, much like the night before.

Just as in any sport when a clearly favored team exists, the longer a game extends, the more the chances at an upset for the underdog diminish. Such an axiom was borne out in the overtime period, as Yale decisively overpowered Dartmouth off the back of a 9-10 mark at the charity stripe in extra time — coming from one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the league.

“Going into the overtime, we had some opportunities,” Boehm said. “We had good shots that just rimmed in and out. [On defense] we ended up having to foul or they got an offensive board. So it happens, five minutes is a short time, and we weren’t able to pull it out.”

All 13 of Yale’s overtime points were scored by Mason, Brandon Sherrod and Justin Sears — the team’s highest scorers on the season. Two more Bulldog players joined this trio in double-digit scoring, as a balanced offensive distribution fueled the team’s victory on Saturday. Sears, one of the Ivy League’s best players, embodied an explosive force at times in netting a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds, thus leading the way for Yale’s plus-11 rebound differential by the end of the night.

For Dartmouth, Boehm displayed a very crafty inside game all night in scoring 16 points, and Taylor Johnson ’18 knocked down all 10 of his free throws to lead all scorers with 18.

Both picked up the slack in light of Boudreaux’s struggles, as the freshman reached only 10 points on 20 percent shooting. Boudreaux fouled out of the game less than 1:30 into overtime on a questionable call away from the ball, and in the process hurting his team’s chances of keeping pace with Yale in the extra session.

The game was tightly contested throughout, with Dartmouth in particular exceeding its typical level of play. Despite Yale possessing a lead for nearly three-fourths of the game clock, the night featured 11 lead changes and nine ties.

Having concluded its final road games of the season, Dartmouth will now return to Hanover to face the University of Pennsylvania on Friday and Princeton on Saturday, with both contests tipping off at 7 p.m. in Leede Arena.