Men’s basketball gets first Ivy wins on buzzer beater and blowout

by Devan Fink | 2/17/20 2:25am

mbb-1

James Foye '20 scored 17 points in Dartmouth's 75-53 win over Cornell on Saturday.

by Lona Girardin / The Dartmouth

For the first time in five years, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team (9-14, 2-6 Ivy) swept an Ivy League back-to-back weekend. 

Behind a game-winning baby hook shot on Friday from Aaryn Rai ’21 to sink Columbia University (6-18, 1-7 Ivy), 65-63, and a wire-to-wire 75-53 domination of Cornell University (5-16, 2-6 Ivy) on Saturday, the Big Green officially put its nine-game losing streak — including an 0-6 start to Ivy play — on the back burner. 

This weekend provided an opportunity to right the ship, and the Big Green took advantage. Columbia and Cornell entered the weekend as the two weakest teams in the conference, according to KenPom ratings. It was not a surprise, then, that Dartmouth opened as favorites in Vegas for both games, giving the team the perfect springboard to stop its skid. As Rai described it, the Big Green “got the monkey off [its] back.” 

The two-game slate did not come without its set of challenges, however. Against Columbia, many of the same issues that have plagued the Big Green in Ivy League play — offensive droughts, foul trouble and bad turnovers — continued. But, to its credit, Dartmouth hung around, and a long James Foye ’20 3-pointer with time expiring in the first half kept the Tigers’ lead to four, 38-34.

In the second half, Dartmouth’s defense clamped down and kept Columbia scoreless for the final 6:50. Though the offense was far from graceful, it got the job done. Down seven points, the team clawed its way back into the contest by continuing to feed Chris Knight ’21, who had one of his most efficient evenings this season. Knight scored 23 points on 10-for-11 shooting, adding two rebounds, two blocks and an assist. Perhaps more importantly, he did not commit a single foul in 31 minutes of playing time. 

“I’ve just been focusing more on not giving the ref an opportunity to give me these ticky-tacky fouls,” Knight said. “In my head, if he makes a good move and he’s going to score two points, it’s not worth picking up a foul. In the long run, the game’s more important than those two points. I’ve been focusing on staying on the court more than staying off the court.”

Thirteen of Knight’s 23 points came in the second half, including five straight points to cut Columbia’s lead from seven to two in the waning minutes. 

“Chris [was] obviously beasting down there,” Rai said.

An Ian Sistare ’20 layup tied the game with 50 seconds left, and after a missed 3-pointer on the other end, the Big Green called timeout to draw up its final play with the shot clock turned off. 

According to Rai, the plan was to feed Foye or Knight, who he called “our two best players that evening.” 

“But Wes [Slajchert ’22] got trapped, and luckily, I just came to the ball, so he didn’t get a turnover,” Rai said. “I found myself under the hoop and with a couple seconds left, so I put it up, and it went in.”

Elation filled Leede Arena, but the Big Green only could celebrate for about 10 minutes, Foye said. With Cornell looming the next day, Dartmouth needed immediate preparation following the emotional victory. 

Staying even keel throughout the weekend clearly worked. Quickly hampering the Big Red was forward Jimmy Boeheim — the second-leading Ivy League scorer — leaving the game just over five minutes in due to an apparent ankle injury. He did not return to action and hobbled through the handshake line on crutches. 

“He’s a terrific player, and they play through him a lot,” said Dartmouth head coach David McLaughlin. “[For them], seeing a teammate go down just stinks. To see a competitor go down stinks. So it’s going to take energy from a team. It’s not like that gave us energy in any way, but we just continued to play and execute and went on a run.”

Cornell never led on Saturday, and at no point did the Big Green take its foot off the gas. After a Knight layup gave Dartmouth a 22-11 lead with 9:23 remaining in the first, Cornell’s deficit never shrunk to fewer than 10 points. In the second half, the Big Red were never within 15. The margin of victory, 22, was tied for Dartmouth’s largest lead of the game. 

The Big Green played with a certain energy that had only been present for spurts of recent games, but never for an entire 40 minutes. Eight different players made at least one basket on Saturday, but the offense once again flowed through the team’s three most efficient playmakers: Foye, Knight and Rai. 

“They need to know that we have confidence in them to get their shots up,” McLaughlin said. “We have to make sure they can play to their strengths, and that allows our team to play to its strengths.”

Knight, in particular, followed up his excellent performance on Friday with another outstanding evening, scoring 17 points in just 24 minutes, thanks to an 8-for-10 night from the field. Just three times this season has Knight shot at least 80 percent with 10 or more shot attempts; he did so in both games this weekend versus Columbia and Cornell. Additionally, his 10 rebounds gave him his third double-double of the season, and he did not find himself in foul trouble at any point. 

“I’ve been in some games where I’ve shot a lot, but I’ve never felt like they’re [comfortable],” Knight said. “I’ve been shooting because I’ve felt like I needed to shoot. But these two games, I’ve been like, ‘Alright, I want this shot.’ I felt like I was in control of what the defense was doing, instead of the defense telling me what to do.”

Foye and Rai also had effective nights on the floor. Though both players shot less than 40 percent from the field in Friday’s win, buckets came in bunches on Saturday. Foye’s 17 points matched his third-highest total this season, while Rai added 13. In the two weekend games combined, the trio of Foye, Knight and Rai scored 93 of the team’s 140 points and shot a combined 60 percent from the field. 

McLaughlin had said in an interview earlier this month that he had wanted his more efficient scorers to “be able to shoot the ball more,” noting that he was trying to “find different ways to get them those shots.” Not until this weekend did that become apparent in the results in both shot attempts and points scored. 

“Aaryn and I — Coach challenged us to be more aggressive, to look for our spots, to know where our shots are coming from,” Foye said. “Chris’s challenge was to stay on the court with foul trouble, and he didn’t foul. So I think we ended up with us being the three guys that took the most shots, and I don’t think that had happened all year, so I think it’s good to have that aggressive mindset.”

The Big Green has to sustain this level of offensive execution if the team wants to maintain any hope of clinching an Ivy League Tournament bid. Even with the successful weekend, Dartmouth is tied for sixth in the conference and three games behind the crucial fourth-place spot. Harvard University (16-7, 5-3 Ivy), the University of Pennsylvania (13-8, 5-3 Ivy) and Brown University (12-9, 5-3 Ivy) are all currently in a three-way tie for the third, fourth and fifth spots in the standings.

Dartmouth has a prime opportunity to pick up major ground next weekend, as the team faces Penn on Friday night and Princeton University (11-10, 6-2 Ivy) on Saturday, with both games coming at home in Leede Arena.