Men's basketball opens Ivy play with close loss to Harvard, 67-62
Despite playing excellent basketball for large stretches of Saturday’s game, the Dartmouth men’s team (7-9, 0-1 Ivy) dropped its Ivy League opener to Harvard University (12-4, 1-0 Ivy), 67-62.
Early in the game, a potential upset appeared to be in the works. The Big Green caught fire in the first half, jumping out to a nine-point lead with 2:52 remaining in the period. The team went five for its first 10 beyond the arc, receiving 3-point contributions from four different players. Ian Sistare ’20 made two of the team’s first five threes and finished the day 3-of-5 from long-range, en route to his 11-point, eight-rebound afternoon.
The Crimson clawed their way back shortly thereafter, however, and would have entered halftime with the lead if it were not for a missed layup at the buzzer. Harvard scored the final eight points of the first half to enter the intermission down just one, 31-30. Though he came off of the bench, freshman forward Chris Ledlum took control, scoring five of those eight points and finishing the day with a career-high 18 points on 7-of-13 field goal attempts, including a solid three-of-seven from 3-point range.
The Crimson kept the pressure on the Big Green, adding to its end-of-first-half run with six more points to open the second. Dartmouth went without scoring for 5:38 of gametime, missing six consecutive shots during that spell.
“There were times where we had too many possessions in a row where we didn’t really get into our stuff or get a good look,” said James Foye ’20. “Those lapses can be hard because, if you’re not quite getting into a rhythm offensively, you basically have to be perfect defensively.”
Foye broke the ice with a 3-pointer of his own, but finished Saturday’s game with just six points on two-of-seven shooting, while also racking up four fouls.
“They did a good job of getting me off the line and staying close to me, so I wasn’t getting as many open looks as I would’ve liked,” Foye said. “Then, a couple of times when I went to the rim, I think their length affected my shot. So [I just need to figure] out when to attack their length, and when is a good time to get a jump-stop, kick it out to my teammates and keep it moving. Credit to them, I think they did a good job guarding all of us.”
From there, the game remained close until Dartmouth experienced another stretch of futility, going 4:08 without scoring late in the second half. In the process, Harvard extended its lead to 12 with just 3:39 remaining, the largest lead of the game for either team.
“I think [we have to improve] our overall attitude when they’re getting a couple buckets in a row,” said Aaryn Rai ’21. “Instead of looking defeated, we just gotta shove it right back to them and get a couple buckets of our own. Instead of looking around for answers, we just gotta come together and make some answers.”
A thorn in Dartmouth’s side all afternoon, Ledlum scored 11 of his 18 points on the day in the second half, proving to be the difference-maker Harvard desperately needed.
“We knew how good he was,” Rai said. “He just got hot.”
The Big Green tried to formulate some answers to Ledlum and the Crimson late in the game. The team made one final run with time expiring, cutting Harvard’s lead to as little as three with 19 seconds to go. The Crimson missed three free throws in a span of 15 seconds, temporarily breathing some life back into Dartmouth’s victory hopes. The Big Green came into Saturday’s contest with the best free throw defense — so to speak — of any Division I team in the nation. Prior to Saturday, Dartmouth opponents shot just 57.7 percent from the stripe.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games,” head coach David McLaughlin said earlier this month with regard to his team’s free throw defense. “So when you’re in a lot of close games, you do try to foul particular people at the end of a game. We’re not a team that fouls a lot during the game. Our free throw rate defensively is low as well, so when teams aren’t getting a lot of shots against you, and they’re getting to the line inconsistently, it doesn’t mean that they shoot the percentage that they normally do. Other than that, it’s just pure luck.”
At the time, McLaughlin noted that the Ivy League performs well at the line. Harvard quickly proved him right, making 18 of their 24 free throws (75 percent) on Saturday, posting the highest opponent free throw percentage versus the Big Green of any team this season (minimum 10 free throw attempts). Because of that, Dartmouth’s end-of-game fouling only proved successful for so long. The Crimson virtually iced the game with 14 seconds left, when senior guard Christian Juzang hit two free throws to go up by five. That would be the eventual margin of victory after time expired.
Rai led all Big Green scorers with 13 points in 32 minutes, adding seven rebounds and three assists. Chris Knight ’21 also had an efficient afternoon, scoring 10 points on four-of-seven shooting in his 20 minutes on the floor, but he was limited in his impact after getting in foul trouble early. In addition to Ledlum, Chris Lewis had a solid day for Harvard, tying Ledlum for game-high point total with 18 over his 28 minutes. Lewis flooded the stats line, adding four rebounds, two steals, three blocks and an assist.
Overall, Dartmouth posted a 40.4 percent field goal percentage on Saturday, a tick below their season-average 44.4 percent coming into the game. Making up for the missed shots — at least to a degree — was their 40 percent 3-point rate, well above the team-average coming in (32.4 percent). The team also shot well from the free throw line; its 85.7 percent rate was a season-high.
The loss moves the Big Green to 0-1 in Ivy League play. As of Jan. 19, Princeton University currently leads the conference at 2-0, winning both of its first two games versus the University of Pennsylvania. Harvard, Yale University and Columbia University are a half-game behind the Tigers at 1-0 each. Dartmouth, Brown University and Cornell University each sit tied for fifth at 0-1, with Penn rounding out the group at 0-2.
The Big Green returns to Hanover next Saturday for a rematch with Harvard, at 7 p.m. in Leede Arena.