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Big Green Can’t Find Groove

Hanover — Playing with energy, enthusiasm and excitement is easy when the stands are full and you are winning games.

While it is much harder for a struggling team playing in front of a friends-and-family only crowd, that can’t be an excuse for losing the battle for 50-50 balls, not stepping in and drawing a charge, or failing to win the floor-burn badge of honor.

That’s the lesson Dartmouth coach Belle Koclanes imparted to her team after last night’s 54-43 loss to La Salle in the 37th annual Blue Sky Classic played in front of listless crowd of 573.

“It’s all about heart and wanting it,” Koclanes said after the Big Green dropped to 1-10. “That takes zero skill. For us to move forward as a team, they have to bring that day in and day out. We’ve been doing a better job of that in practice. I’ve been on them about it since the day I met them. Being consistent with that effort.

“When you go and you play at DePaul and there are 4,000 people in the stands and it’s easy to play when it’s like that. We talk about creating the environment you want to play in. You create it.”

Forward Lakin Roland certainly gave it a shot against La Salle (5-6). Against a team with a bruising 6-4 transfer center from Pittsburgh and a 6-4 backup, the 6-foot Roland hit 6-of-10 shots, scored a game-high 13 points while leading both squads in rebounds with 12, and hit the floor at least a half dozen times. Abbey Schmidt added 10 points and six rebounds as Dartmouth hung tough despite an off night by leading scorer Fanny Szabo.

Szabo, who came in averaging 18.8 points on the season and 23.8 at Leede Arena, missed her first 12 shots before taking a 2-on-1 breakaway pass from Milica Toskovic and making a layup that pulled the Big Green within 44-34 with 4:03 remaining. But La Salle answered with a quick 6-0 run and Dartmouth was never able to close the gap to single digits.

Szabo finished 1-for-14 for five points, just her second game in single-figures this season.

“We wanted to take Fanny out of the game,” offered La Salle coach Jeff Williams. “She’s a big part of what they do so we wanted to deny her the ball and make it difficult for her. Make her catch the ball a little further away than she was accustomed to.

“We did a good job of that, but we had a hard time putting them away. They kept coming.”

The evening started on a good — but ultimately misleading — note for Dartmouth as Toskovic drained a 3-pointer with the first shot of the game. Despite getting open looks, the Big Green proceeded to miss its next 13 attempts from long range and finished the opening half 1-for-14 on 3-pointers and 4-for-26 (15.4 percent) overall. Add in eight of nine possessions derailed by turnovers without getting off a shot and a 9-7 lead devolved into a 24-11 deficit before three foul shot makes — in six tries — limited the halftime damage to 24-14.

Trailing by a dozen points as the second half neared the midway point, Dartmouth got a 3-pointer from Toskovic from straight out and she followed with a 2-pointer from almost the same location to pull her team within 35-28 and force Williams to call a timeout. A La Salle turnover led to a Big Green layup that would have made things interesting, but it rimmed out and the Explorers responded with a 7-0 run to go up 14.

They were never really challenged the rest of the way.

Dartmouth finished the night 15-of-52 (28.8 percent) from the field and a woeful 3-for-23 (13.0 percent) from outside the arc.

La Salle got 13 points from Alicia Cropper, 12 from center Leeza Burdgess and 11 from Khristin Lee. Cropper and Lee, both guards, combined for 14 rebounds.

Dartmouth will face Massachusetts tonight at 7.

Led by former Big Green assistant Sharon Dawley, the Minutemen led Binghamton by double digits early, fell behind by double-digits in the second half and scrambled back to make it close before falling, 56-51, in the opening contest of the tournament.

La Salle and Binghamton will square off for the championship in the first game.

Notes: Dartmouth welcomed back Toskovic and starting point guard Nicola Zimmer, both who had been out with mononucleosis, but was once again without leading rebounder and inside presence Tia Dawson. The 6-2 junior, whose calming presence in the middle helps the Big Green break the press, missed the first five games of the year, played in the last five but now will be out for the season with an ankle injury that will require surgery. ... Dartmouth last won the tournament in 1998. ...The Big Green and the Explorers have met twice before, both times in the Classic. In the 1982 tourney, it was Dartmouth earning a 65-63 victory. La Salle repaid Dartmouth two years ago by dealing the Big Green a 60-47 loss. ... The La Salle roster features three first-year Explorers with impressive college credentials. Lee was Alabama’s starting point guard in 2011-12 and arrived at La Salle this year as a graduate student. Junior guard Cropper started 28 games at Providence before sitting out last year at La Salle as a transfer. And 6-4 Burgess led Pittsburgh in scoring two years ago before coming to La Salle this year as a grad student.