Men’s basketball upsets Yale behind a career-high performance by Neskovic
The Big Green defeated the Bulldogs, last year’s Ivy League champion, for the first time since 2015 Friday night.
Dusan Neskovic ’24 stopped Justin Gallantly, the ESPN play-by-play commentator for Dartmouth’s Friday night game against Yale University, halfway through his first postgame question — prefaced by a reference to Yale’s recent success against the Big Green.
Prior to Friday night, the Bulldogs had won the last 12 games in the series. Neskovic, unlike Gallantly, didn’t know that.
“Oh really?” Neskovic shot back, much to the surprise of the ESPN crew.
But to Neskovic and the Big Green team, the past is of little importance.
“We need to build on this,” head coach David McLaughlin told his team in the locker room following its 81-77 victory over Yale. “This is just one step… [in] forming an identity, starting to form one.”
When Gallantly at last asked Neskovic about his night — a career-high 24-point performance — the 6’7” forward answered confidently.
“I think I just came in really aggressively,” he said. “My mindset was to be aggressive on the board, to be aggressive on shots.”
Neskovic was true to his word, posting six rebounds to go along with his scoring while shooting a perfect four for four from behind the arc. His other twelve points came from converting six of seven free throws and three of six shots inside the arc.
“[Neskovic], I believe, is probably — on a pure talent standpoint — the most talented player we have on our team,” Dame Adelekun ’23 said. “I felt like that was a showcase for him of what he could do on a consistent level just with his size and his scoring ability. So I think he was killing it. I feel like he played the game of his career and I was really happy for him.”
The Big Green stepped up both offensively and defensively in Friday’s victory, leading for virtually the entire second half to hand Yale its first home loss of the season. The victory bumped the Bulldogs’ record down to 10-5 on the season and an underwhelming 0-2 in conference play.
The Big Green improved to 1-1 in Ivy League play, eager to put its 5-11 overall record — which has no bearing on the Ivy League tournament — behind the team.
While Neskovic’s scoring was the highlight of Dartmouth’s offensive output, he was bolstered by strong performances from the surrounding players, including 18 from Ryan Cornish ’25 and 13 from Adelekun, who also had four rebounds and a pair of blocks.
“That’s what you need to win a game on the road against a really, really, really good team,” McLaughlin said of their efforts, before focusing in on Neskovic. “Those guys all stepped up, [Neskovic] in particular… I was happy for him and proud of him for how he approached it.”
Although Dartmouth controlled the second half en route to putting the game away, it was back-and-forth early on. Both teams were neck and neck in the early going, the game seeing seven lead changes in the opening 20 minutes.
Yale went up by six with 7:30 remaining in the half and then again by six with 6:50 remaining, but the Big Green put together a 10-0 run on two three-pointers and a pair of jumpers to give Dartmouth the 28-24 lead with just under four minutes remaining. Yale would claw back, though, giving Dartmouth a narrow 34-33 lead at halftime.
“We had a chip on our shoulder that game,” Adelekun said. “We lost two really tough games to Yale last year, and… I told the guys before the game, how since I’ve been at Dartmouth, we’ve yet to win at the Yale gym… Every time Yale fought back, we knew we had to counter in some way and we were prepared to do what it takes.”
At the start of the second half, a pair of free throws put the Bulldogs up one, but that would be the last time Dartmouth trailed — a quick Adelekun layup gave Dartmouth the momentum to carry the rest of the game.
“We just maintained our lead throughout,” McLaughlin said. “Anytime they made a run, we withstood it… Besides making our free throws at the end, I thought we really got an identity out there. I thought we had a toughness to us. I’m just really proud of the guys.”
The biggest lead of the game would come with just over ten minutes remaining, when Dartmouth went up seven. The rest of the game was largely a free throw contest, with a few missed Big Green free throws allowing Yale to tie it up. Ultimately, Dartmouth regained its composure and finished off the game.
“I think the free-throws here and there, we gotta get better at it, but as the season moves on we’ll be good,” Neskovic said. “I think we really played overall a really tough game, and that’s what we have to do moving on — that has to define us.”
That grit shone through specifically on the defensive end, as the Big Green scored 16 points off of forced turnovers and held Yale to a below-average field goal percentage of 43.4%.
“We really played consistently tougher basketball for 40 minutes, and I think that showed the result,” Neskovic said. “We definitely out-toughed them, and we kept that consistent throughout the game.”
After the big win, McLaughlin and the team noted the importance of continuing to keep the focus on the future, looking ahead to the next day’s battle with Brown in Providence, Rhode Island.
“We gotta get some rest tonight, we gotta dive into film tonight and tomorrow morning, and just be prepared to play again,” McLaughlin said after the game. “Another good team, another good team on the road and a team that’s gonna be ready to attack us.”
Unfortunately, Dartmouth was not able to keep up its momentum, dropping a competitive clash with the Bears on Saturday by a score of 77-70. Dartmouth kept the game tight early, but saw Brown extend its lead to seven points at the half after a hot stretch to close out the first. The Bears would not relinquish that lead, extending it out to 17 points at its largest.
Despite a strong performance from Adelekun — 17 points on 8-13 shooting — and great shooting from Neskovic, Cornish and Izaiah Robinson ’24, who combined for eight made threes on 15 attempts, the Big Green never found its way back into the game in the second half.
That loss notwithstanding, the team will look to maintain what it did well in the Yale win going forward.
“I think we’re just starting, honestly,” Neskovic said. “I think this is what has to bring us up, bring us together — it’s just a start.”
The Big Green will next take the court Jan. 14 at home against the University of Pennsylvania, currently third in the Ivy League, with a chance to bring its conference record back to an even