Men’s basketball nears elimination after split weekend at home

by Devan Fink | 2/24/20 2:25am

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After beating Penn on Friday, the Big Green could not complete a second-half comeback and fell to Princeton.

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

After sweeping its first Ivy League back-to-back in five years last weekend, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team (10-15, 3-7 Ivy) was mere inches away from doing so again. 

A resounding 66-59 victory versus the University of Pennsylvania (13-10, 5-5 Ivy) on Friday extended the Big Green’s winning streak to three, but a heartbreaking 65-62 loss to Princeton University (12-11, 7-3 Ivy) on Saturday all-but-eliminated Dartmouth from Ivy League Tournament contention. 

“Unfortunately, we can’t change anything about what we did this weekend,” said Aaryn Rai ’21.

In both contests, the offense continued to score efficiently. Against Penn, in particular, the Big Green never took its foot off the gas. The Quakers only had two leads the entire game — going in front 17-16 with 7:20 to go in the first half, and taking a 29-28 lead on the first play of the second. 

Three players finished the night with double-digit point totals, including Trevon Ary-Turner ’22, who scored a Dartmouth career-high 16 points on five-of-seven shooting from the field, including two 3-pointers. Ary-Turner’s contributions off the bench represented a rarity for the Big Green, who have struggled to benefit from consistent scoring beyond the starting five. 

Granted, both Rai and Chris Knight ’21 had excellent nights on Friday as well, scoring 18 and 16 points, respectively. James Foye ’20, too, had plenty of opportunities to score, finishing third on the team in field goal attempts, but went just two-of-nine with five points. In all, 62.5 percent of Dartmouth’s field goals on Friday night were taken by the team’s three major contributors, a continuation of what has been an increased emphasis to get the ball in its efficient scorers’ hands more often. 

Rai, for one, single-handedly kept Penn from making any comeback attempt in the second half, scoring each of Dartmouth’s first 11 points to open the frame. Then, Ary-Turner iced the game later in the half with a 3-pointer to extend Dartmouth’s lead to 10 with just 1:44 to go. For each potential Quaker comeback spark, Dartmouth had an answer. 

On Saturday, it was nearly the opposite: Princeton had all the answers. Midway through the first half, the Tigers built a 17-point lead, and it appeared as if a rout would be in order. The Dartmouth defense was not stopping anything — from the opening tip, when Princeton’s Ethan Wright made a layup just three seconds in, it appeared as if the Big Green was always on its heels. 

“Whenever you get down, you look up at the scoreboard and you think, ‘Chip away,’” Foye said. “When you’ve been around basketball a long time, you realize that there are swings. The biggest thing is just not panicking when you’re down.”

Dartmouth did chip away, and entered halftime down just nine, 33-24. The Tigers quickly pushed that back up to 14 thanks to uncharacteristically efficient 3-point shooting from Jaelin Llewellyn, who entered Saturday’s game shooting just 25.2 percent from beyond the arc. He got hot early, and finished the game five-of-seven from 3-point range, a career-high. The entire night, it appeared as if Princeton could limit any Big Green momentum with 3s. In the last 9:05, Princeton made four important shots beyond the arc that kept its lead from completely falling apart. 

“3s can be big,” Foye said. “I think it can be big for the other side — I don’t know that it changes our mindset — but it certainly gives them confidence. When you’re on the road and shots aren’t falling, it’s tough to play. They hit a couple big shots.”

Down nine with just 7:25 to go, the Big Green entered comeback mode, as it has all season. Knight took over, finishing the game with a tie for his career-high with 27 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the field. He added 13 rebounds, which also tied his career-high. In the last two home weekends, Knight has played some of the best basketball of his college career, averaging 20.75 points and eight rebounds, while shooting 72.3 percent from the field. He has also limited his fouls and turnovers, averaging just 1.5 and 2.3, respectively, in this stretch. 

“Just belief,” Dartmouth head coach David McLaughlin said about Knight’s recent hot stretch. “He has to believe that he can do this consistently. We know we want to play through him. He believes in himself, his teammates believe in him, his coaching staff believes in him, I believe in him. It’s just overall belief.”

Knight scored 17 of his 27 points in the second half, and when he had to go to the bench around the seven-minute mark to get a breather — “I do get tired,” he quipped — Rai picked up right where he left off, scoring six straight points, including a steal and fast-break layup that energized the Leede Arena crowd. 

“I thought it was awesome,” McLaughlin said. “It wasn’t an, ‘Okay, let’s watch Dartmouth compete.’ It was more of a, ‘Let’s go watch Dartmouth beat Princeton.’ We’re making this community and this college believe that we can win consistently. That’s what we need here.”

Dartmouth cut Princeton’s lead to a single point on three separate occasions — 53-52 with 5:10 remaining, 61-60 with 1:31 remaining and 63-62 with 18 seconds remaining — but the shot to complete the comeback never fell. 

The loss leaves Dartmouth at 3-7 in Ivy League play, still three games behind Brown University (13-10, 6-4 Ivy) for the crucial fourth slot in the conference standings. Mathematically, there are still scenarios in which Dartmouth can make the tournament, according to college basketball statistician Luke Benz, but the team will need to win every single game left and get significant help from the rest of the conference. 

“It’s going to be real tough,” Knight said. “We’re just going to go out there and play and see if miracles can happen.”

Even still, McLaughlin and his players are keeping positive in spite of needing the near-impossible to go right. 

“We’re going to have to have a great week of prep, and just take it game by game,” Foye said. “Crazy things can happen in this league, and we just have to put our head down. Winning is motivation enough, but if we win enough and something crazy happens, that’s even greater.”

The team wraps up its road schedule next weekend with a traverse of New York, as the Big Green heads to Ithaca on Friday for a date with Cornell University (6-17, 3-7 Ivy) and then to the Big Apple on Saturday for a contest with Columbia University (6-20, 1-9 Ivy). The Big Green should have a good opportunity to win both games — KenPom gives the team a 49 percent chance to win against the Big Red and a 51 percent chance against the Lions. 

“The outlook is Monday,” McLaughlin said. “As a coach, as a player, you can’t go more forward than that. You just have to win the day on Monday.”