Men’s basketball wraps up nonconference play with 7-8 record
Many students traveled during the six weeks of winter break between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and the men’s basketball team was no exception. Dartmouth kicked off its winterim with a five-game road trip spanning from Florida to Maine, which featured a few close losses, a dominant 33-point victory and a 19-point defeat.
Prior to the break, the Big Green was 5-1, a record not seen since the 1996-97 season, when the team finished second in the Ivy League. This early momentum came to a halt on the road, though, with the team slipping to Bowling Green University 76-69. Thirteen points from Aaryn Rai ’21 in the first half were almost enough to help overcome a 19-point deficit, but the Falcons pulled away for the victory. Rai finished with 20 points — a season high at the time — while Taurus Samuels ’22 came off the bench to add 15 of his own.
The team fell to 5-4 after traveling south and dropping games against Georgia State University and the University of South Florida. While James Foye ’20 and Chris Knight ’21 recorded more than 20 points and to keep the Big Green neck-and-neck with Georgia State, last-second heroics by the Panthers’ Corey Allen sent the game into overtime tied at 69-69. Foye brought Dartmouth within a point with a late 3-pointer, but GSU held on for the 83-80 overtime win. The margin was much larger against South Florida, as the Big Green struggled with turnovers and lost 63-44.
“Sometimes the result isn’t actually indicative — just the loss isn’t indicative of the progress we’re making,” Foye said. “Once you’re a senior and you’ve been around, you know the difference between a good loss and bad loss, and you know the difference between when we’re playing bad and we’re making strides.”
Despite the three-game losing streak, the team showed up against the University of Maine ready to end its drought. The Big Green dominance started with an 11-0 run that only built momentum until the night ended at 77-44. Four players posted double-digit points, fueling the team to its largest margin of victory against a Division I team since 1997.
“Our coaches just saw some mismatches we could take advantage of,” Rai said. “We felt like we really needed to get a win and we could really jump on them, just the way they played [was] quite slow, so we got to attack them in transition.”
The last of the five away games featured another close loss, this time visiting Boston University. A Big Green comeback looked promising as the team recorded 16 points in the final minute of play to bring the deficit to one as BU struggled at the line, but the incredible run came up just short. The Terriers sank one of two free throws to leave the door open with four seconds to go, but the Big Green could not fire off a shot, losing 78-76.
Back in Hanover, the team split a pair of games to reach a 7-6 record. Knight’s perfect 8-for-8 shooting along with Rai’s first double-double of the season propelled the team to a 76-60 victory against Central Connecticut State University. The Big Green’s first home loss of the year came after a close 64-60 matchup versus Bryant University in which Knight and Rai both netted double-doubles. .
“We’re feeling really confident; [these games] showed that we can play with any team,” Rai said. “We’ve been in a lot of different scenarios and just that experience is really going to carry over, so [now] in those close games we’re going to come out on top.”
Dartmouth lost its final two games of nonconference play against the University of New Hampshire and the University of Vermont, despite the rare sellout home crowd in the latter game. The Big Green got within four points of the Catamounts during the final minute, holding NBA draft prospect Anthony Lamb to 10 points and four rebounds, significantly below his season averages. Rai, who made eight of nine from the field versus Vermont, emphasized the importance of having difficult matchups to prepare for the Ivy League season.
“The coaches schedule the games with different teams, different styles of play similar to what we’re going to see in the Ivy League season,” Rai said. “We can get a good look on all different styles of play and give us a test to see where we’re at. Both offensively and defensively, we’re going to play similar teams, and we’re prepared for what’s to come.”
The Big Green opens up conference play on the road against Harvard University on Jan. 18 before returning to host the Crimson at Leede Arena the following weekend. Last year, Dartmouth’s 81-63 win against Harvard was team’s first victory to open Ivy League play in 12 years; however, the Big Green may struggle to repeat that feat as the Crimson is currently coming off a six-game win streak with an 11-4 record. Even with Harvard’s notable success, Foye said the Big Green players feel ready after playing similar teams during the nonconference slate.
“When you’re preparing for a team, you look at a team like Harvard coming up,” Foye said. “They pressure the ball a lot, and we have film from a team like USF who pressures. It’s like the analogies like that — it’s a different team, a different uniform, but you feel like you’ve seen it before, which gives you an advantage and calms you down.”
According to Foye, the team ultimately hopes to earn its first bid to the Ivy League tournament by finishing among the top four Ivy teams. The winner of that tournament automatically qualifies for the NCAA Tournament.
“We know that usually historically to make it to that top four you have to be .500 or better, so better than .500 is a good goal for us,” Foye said. “It’s a really hard league, so you have to take it on a game by game basis. Sometimes it just comes down to who can be tougher and hit a couple more clutch shots.”