Adelekun stamps signature on Big Green legacy following Penn loss, leads Dartmouth to a Harvard victory

The Big Green rallied from its loss to Penn to defeat Harvard on Saturday in a game that meant everything to its seniors but nothing for Ivy Madness.

by Will Dehmel | 3/6/23 1:05am

Source: Justin Lafleur

After all the success Dame Adelekun ’23 has had  this year, it seemed only right that the 884 fans in Leede Arena wanted to touch greatness.

And indeed, as the crowd rose to its feet following Saturday’s 87-82 win over Harvard University, Adelekun’s coveted hands were momentarily theirs. Minutes after the last game of his Dartmouth career, Adelekun was in the stands offering them — in the form of high fives, handshakes and autographs.

The hands were the same ones that had blocked a league-leading 53 shots this season — the same ones that had rebounded 194 basketballs and shot 56.3% from the field. They were the same ones that had rallied Dartmouth out of an underwhelming 4-10 start to the season, that on Saturday led the Big Green to its sixth Ivy League win of the season — marking the first time Dartmouth has won six or more conference games in back-to-back years since the 1995-1996 season. The win also marked the first time the Big Green has swept Harvard in a season in 24 years.

“Ever since I was a freshman, our seniors were trying to change the culture,” Adelekun said. “I took it upon my shoulders and I really wanted to show our team that we could do better.”

Head coach David McLaughlin confirmed that Adelekun did just that.

“If you were to ask me at this point after Dame’s freshman year what his career is gonna look like, I’d say ‘I don’t know, because he hasn’t played yet,’” McLaughlin said. “‘I think he’s got some tools; I think he has some natural gifts.’ But what we didn’t realize is how much he cherishes getting better at his craft, and how much he loves basketball, and how much he wants to be great.”

That made, McLaughlin said, for not only a leader but a dangerously good basketball player.

“You can not underestimate that with a player,” McLaughlin said. “When you can match that with energy — I think he was on the ground three times this week in practice — that’s a special young man.”

For the seniors and the rest of the team, Saturday capped off what was, for the most part, a positive season. The Big Green’s hopes of qualifying for Ivy Madness were vanquished after a 79-89 loss to the University of Pennsylvania a week ago, but Dartmouth nonetheless ended the season on a high note.

“It’s hard at the end of the year when you know there’s not a game after this,” McLaughlin said. “But our guys prepared as if this was a playoff game, and I was proud of them for that.”

Last Saturday, Dartmouth came out of the gate weak, quickly finding themselves in a first-half deficit at Pennsylvania and going down by as much as 14 points before crawling back within eight as they entered the locker room.

Despite Adelekun’s 24 points on the game, the second half was defined by Dartmouth’s failure to surge ahead. Four times the Big Green pulled within five points — the last instance with just 2:05 remaining — but the team could never continue the rally long enough to take the lead. 

“We challenged the guys at halftime…and I thought they responded,” McLaughlin said. “We cut the game to a single possession and we either couldn’t execute on the offensive end or we couldn’t get the stop we needed on the defensive end.”

Still, the Big Green played well, shooting 52.7% from the field — the team’s fourth highest shooting percentage of the season. Unfortunately, as hot as Dartmouth was, the Quakers were hotter, shooting a season-best 61.5% to nudge past the Big Green.

This Saturday was, however, a different story.

McLaughlin started all five seniors: Jackson Blaufeld ’23, Cam Krystkowiak ’23, Paul Hudson ’23, Nate Ogbu ’23 and Adelekun. Within the first five minutes, all but Hudson scored buckets. At the first media timeout, Harvard was up 10-9. Only then did all seniors besides Adelekun and Krystkowiak exit to the bench.

“I thought our seniors played like seniors,” McLaughlin said. “I thought they were focused and ready to go, and we wanted just to empower them to go out and play — and they did, and I thought it set the tone for the game.”

Overall, the team shot a season best of 60% from the field, and six Big Green players had eight or more points. Adelekun led with 19, followed by Dusan Neskovic ’24 at 18 and Ryan Cornish ’25 at 16 — 13 of which came in the second half. Adelekun capped off his block-heavy season with four more against Harvard to push his season average to an even 2.0 per game.

Unlike last Saturday, Dartmouth was in control of the score for the majority of the game. The Big Green quickly took the lead off an Adelekun layup out of the first media timeout, but then the Crimson matched with one of their own. Neskovic would then hit two straight threes to go up 17-12 — and Harvard would not retake the lead for the rest of the game.

Dartmouth led by at most 12 with 1:32 remaining, but let the Crimson come within three before Kystkowiak knocked down two clutch free throws to close out the victory.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Cornish said. “If worst comes to worst — if he misses the first — I was gonna try to let them get a few seconds off the clock and then foul them. Maybe they go one and one on the line, like a second or two left, and then it’s tough to win the game.”

And so there the Big Green was, winning what was the seniors’ final game — and leaving them with a sweet taste in their mouths.

“We did have the capabilities to go to Ivy Madness, but I’m proud of my guys, showing growth,” Adelekun said. “Those are my guys; we’ve been here this whole journey. Before the game I was like, ‘We always wanted to play with each other — this is our opportunity, let’s make the most of it.’”

But for Cornish and Neskovic, the thought of getting another crack at it next year is exciting.

“We got a bunch of young guys, we have a really young team,” Cornish said. “I think the seniors have really shown us the way for us young guys…I think they trained us the right way to all be able to be effective in the season next year.”

And so away Adelekun walks — palms calloused, proud to leave the steering wheel in someone else’s hands.