Men’s basketball splits New York weekend

by Alexander Agadjanian | 2/21/16 6:30pm

This past weekend, Dartmouth men’s basketball team commenced the second half of its conference season, vying to disentangle itself from a four-way tie at the bottom of the league standings. In its second look at its two New York-based Ivy League foes, the Big Green (9-15, 3-7 Ivy) convincingly triumphed over Cornell University (9-15, 2-8) 78-66 on Friday night, but could not sustain an early lead against Columbia University (19-8, 8-2 Ivy) on Saturday in falling apart 73-54.

In its first game of a four-game road trip, Dartmouth took full advantage of a chance at redemption. Only three weeks earlier, it surrendered a lead late against Cornell that further ushered in a damaging losing streak. The contest in Ithaca this time around nearly followed a similar course, but the Big Green, having led for all but four minutes on the night, finally managed to neutralize a late opposing surge to secure its third victory in conference play.

Neck and neck in the early stages of the first half, the 13:28 mark signaled a dramatic change in the balance of the game, after which Dartmouth sprung out to a 16-3 run over six minutes. Catching fire from deep, the team made 5-of-8 in the first stanza to enter the half with a commanding 36-24 edge.

“I think defensively we really stepped it up and did a good job of containing their perimeter players,” forward Evan Boudreaux ’19 said, while also emphasizing the team’s strong defensive play. “Our defense gave us a chance to a build a decent lead and then carry that over into the second half.”

The dominance spilled over into the subsequent half, as for more than an 18-minute stretch going back to the first, Dartmouth kept a double-digit separation from the Big Red. Despite Dartmouth accumulating as much as a 20-point lead, Cornell cut its deficit down to six with just under four minutes left to play. The comeback was fueled by the play of Cornell guard Darryl Smith, who finished the night tied for a game-high of 22 points. Yet Dartmouth refused to break down late, converting a slew of critical free throws down the stretch.

A few of those came from Boudreaux, who once again led the way for Dartmouth. Despite posting a substandard 6-for-17 field goal mark, the first-year player produced another remarkable performance with 22 points — buoyed by going 9-for-11 on free throws — and 18 rebounds. Moreover, Boudreaux attained the double-double by halftime, his third straight and ninth on the year.

More than halfway through the Ivy League slate, it is worth taking stock of the magnitude of the freshman’s success. Averaging the second-most points per game in the Ivy League, Boudreaux has been a near-unstoppable force on drives to the rim — either converting baskets, as evidenced by his third-most two-point field goals, or habitually drawing fouls. In terms of maximizing volume and accuracy, he ranks as the best free throw shooter in the conference with a league-leading 127 made.

But it doesn’t stop there. Boudreaux has become a rebounding savant through his skill, physicality and anticipation on the glass, corralling the second-most rebounds per game and posting a 17.0 rebound percentage — an estimate of the percent of rebounds grabbed while on the court — that puts him at third in the conference. Particularly raising his level in league play, Boudreaux has etched his name as a premier conference player in only his first year in Hanover.

All the while he has received plenty of help, as Taylor Johnson ’18 and Miles Wright ’18 had 14 and 13 points, respectively, on Friday night and three more contributors had at least seven to propel Dartmouth past Cornell. Another advantage on the boards materialized as well, as a 46-32 rebound edge proved key for the win.

The following night saw the Big Green travel to New York City and face a top-tier Ivy team in Columbia. While the Lions hardly dominated to the extent that it did during the teams’ meeting in Hanover a few weeks ago, Dartmouth nevertheless could not translate an early-game cushion to more sustainable control.

Yielding the first basket of the night, Dartmouth swiftly responded by scoring nine consecutive points. As both sides engaged in a 3-point showdown consisting of a combined six long-range shots in just the first eight minutes and ten seconds, the Big Green’s stalwart trio of Boudreaux, Wright and Connor Boehm ’16 scored their team’s first 20 points to command the contest’s early stages.

Yet after coming out brimming with confidence following a second straight Ivy victory, that early energy — and shooting ability, more specifically — petered out as the first half wound down and the second half began.

The 8:24 time stamp in the first half particularly marked a consequential turning point. Up until that point, the Big Green had made 10 of 20 shots — three of which from deep — and cultivated a 24-15 lead in what would remain its largest of the night. Such control allowed the team to lead for 88 percent of the first half of the game clock.

But for the rest of the opening half, Dartmouth turned cold from the field going 1-of-10. For the remainder of the game after its nine-point edge, the team converted just 10 of 42 shots — producing a dreadful .238 shooting percentage, far below its .429 average on the season. Continuously developing its offense along the way, Columbia warded off each of Dartmouth’s incursions on its lead, eventually closing out the night with authority in leaving with a 19-point win.

“We were too individually focused going on later in the game,” forward Boehm said in explaining why the team stumbled on offense. “Going into the game, the plan was reversing the ball, getting everybody touches, work through our offense. I thought we did a good job of that in the first half, but [then] we started stopping possessions to short, taking shots too early in the clock, not getting enough reversals, and that’s kind of what hurt us.”

Four different Lions ended the contest in double digits, led by guard Grant Mullins with 17, while five different players contributed to a strong three-point presence, as Columbia went 9-for-29 from deep. On the other side, Boudreaux had a team-high 16 points but struggled on offense in shooting 5-for-18, caused in large part by the Lions’ defensive containment effort.

“They really did a good job double-teaming Evan when we got him the ball. And then we had to go away from certain options that we had,” head coach Paul Cormier said about his star’s troubles. “We got the ball to him but they quickly double-teamed. He tried to score before the double-team got there, so he had to rush some shots, and when he was able to get rid of the ball to someone else, we weren’t able to capitalize on that.”

With four games left in the season, Dartmouth now begins a new week of conference play tied for fifth in the Ivy League, and mathematically eliminated not only from the race for the conference crown, but also facing a ceiling of fourth place as a potential finish in the standings. That’s due to the enormous gulf between the top three teams, composed of Yale University, Princeton University and Columbia University, and the bottom five in the league. While the former group has posted at least a five-point average margin of victory per game — with Yale and Princeton on average ending games at least 10 ahead — the latter cohort has ranged from a -1.7 to -8.0 average margin. Yale sits 9-1, Princeton 8-1 and Columbia 8-2 in Ivy League play. Dartmouth is 3-7.

The Big Green will continue their road trip this upcoming weekend, playing at Brown University on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m., then at Yale the following day at 8 p.m.