As 2016 came to a close, Dartmouth faced off against its in-state rival, New Hampshire, for the 67th time. After a frenetic last minute of action, the Big Green came away with a 63-62 victory and their first home win in the series since 2004. More importantly, Dartmouth has now won three in a row, after losing its first nine contests of the season.
Saturday’s contest was a back-and-forth affair with no team leading by more than six points. Down two with less than 50 seconds to go, Dartmouth sophomore forward Evan Boudreaux drove to the right of the basket looking for the tie and was tripped. As he was falling out of bounds, he somehow managed to shoot the ball and get it in the basket. After hitting the subsequent free throw, the Big Green found themselves up one. A UNH layup with 31 seconds put the Wildcats back in front by one. Boudreaux missed a three pointer with 12 seconds to go and UNH’s David Watkins was immediately fouled after he rebounded the shot. Watkins made the first free throw, but missed the second. With five seconds remaining, Dartmouth called a timeout down two.
Everyone in the building had to expect the ball to go to Boudreaux. As designed by coach David McLaughlin, his star would get the ball and have the option to shoot or pass. After capturing the inbounds pass on the right side, Boudreaux saw that first-year guard Brendan Barry was trailing and had an open shot. Boudreaux got the ball to Barry who calmly hit the game-leading three, making the score 63-62 with 2.8 remaining. With one last chance, the ball ended up in the hands of Jaleen Smith just beyond the top of the arc. Smith’s shot swished through for the apparent game-winner only to be reviewed as leaving Smith’s hands a fraction of a second after the buzzer.
Dartmouth earned the victory on the strength of its defense. UNH came into the game with a plus-6.5 rebounding margin, but the Big Green ended up with 6 more rebounds. The Wildcats were also shooting three-pointers at 36.7 percent, averaging 9.2 three-pointers on 25 attempts a game. Dartmouth held them to 31.3 percent from outside, going 5-for-16.
Dartmouth has been focusing energies on denying the three-pointer. In its recent first victory of the season against LIU-Brooklyn, Dartmouth held the Blackbirds to 20 percent, 2-for-10, from three. In the Green’s second consecutive road victory against Bryant, they held the high scoring Bulldogs to 23 percent from outside, 3-for-13, after allowing 46 percent in the first half.
Offensively, Boudreaux, Guilien Smith and Miles Wright are continuing to lead the way. While the names are not surprising for those following the team, the order has been different during this streak with Smith averaging 18.3, Wright 15.3 and Boudreaux 12.3. As the Green have been improving their shooting defense and keeping games close, they have helped their cause by being plus-19 in free throws made.
As important as the statistics have been for the Big Green, the first-years are starting to gain experience and the team has become more settled in its rotation. Barry has seen his minutes increase in the backcourt as Mike Fleming’s backup. Wesley Dickinson has gotten more time up front, including his first start of the year in yesterday’s contest. Perhaps the most notable increase in the team’s growing confidence game at the end of the first half in yesterday’s game. With just over six minutes to go, Boudreaux picked up his second foul with the team down six. Playing with four first-years, the Big Green kept UNH from taking control of the game and ended up only being down two at halftime.
Cynics may point out that LIU-Brookllyn is ranked No. 287 by KenPom and Bryant is No. 299, but Dartmouth beat both of those teams on the road. For those pointing out that New Hampshire was just coming off a 10-day rest, the Wildcats are ranked No. 163 and are the second rated team in the America East preseason poll. The Big Green still seem destined to miss out on the upper division of the Ivy League for this year, but they have settled the reeling ship and are improving as the conference schedule gets closer. This Tuesday’s home contest against Cal State Bakersfield (No. 114) should be a very good test for Dartmouth as it gets ready for its league opener against Harvard next Saturday night.