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Crimson Tide: Harvard Engulfs Dartmouth Hoop

  • Evan Cummins of Harvard knocks the ball away from Brandon McDonnell of Dartmouth as he shoots during Harvard's 80 - 50 win in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 26, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Evan Cummins of Harvard knocks the ball away from Brandon McDonnell of Dartmouth as he shoots during Harvard's 80 - 50 win in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 26, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Laurent Rivard of Harvard, middle, comes up with the ball as Connor Boehm of Dartmouth dives and Mike Fleming, right, of Dartmouth challenge for a rebound during Harvard's 80 - 50 win in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 26, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Laurent Rivard of Harvard, middle, comes up with the ball as Connor Boehm of Dartmouth dives and Mike Fleming, right, of Dartmouth challenge for a rebound during Harvard's 80 - 50 win in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 26, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Evan Cummins of Harvard knocks the ball away from Brandon McDonnell of Dartmouth as he shoots during Harvard's 80 - 50 win in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 26, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Laurent Rivard of Harvard, middle, comes up with the ball as Connor Boehm of Dartmouth dives and Mike Fleming, right, of Dartmouth challenge for a rebound during Harvard's 80 - 50 win in Hanover, N.H., Sunday, January 26, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Hanover — Coaches for the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team wore sneakers with their suits Sunday as part of an awareness effort for cancer research and prevention. Their players, however, never gained traction against visiting Harvard, losing 80-50 during an Ivy League game in which the absence of standout Gabas Maldunas was profoundly felt.

Maldunas, a junior center, was lost for the season earlier in the week after he tore a knee ligament while attempting a layup during practice. The Lithuanian scored 23 of his team’s 45 points during the teams’ first meeting of the season two weeks ago, a 61-45 Crimson victory in Boston.

“That’s the best team in the league and they came to play today,” said Dartmouth guard Malik Gill, a sophomore who scored a career-high 16 points. “We struggled to compete with them. We wanted to spread it out and make shots, but they just weren’t falling today.”

Harvard made an astounding 15 of 19 field-goal attempts during the second half, despite coach Tommy Amaker delving deep into his bench. A Leede Arena crowd announced at 1,544 drained away as the game dragged on without hope of a Dartmouth comeback.

The Crimson, which hit on 66 percent of its shots from the floor during the contest, received 15 points from guard Laurent Rivard.

Forward Connor Boehm and Gill each scored 16 points for Dartmouth, which dropped to 7-9 overall and 0-2 in league play while losing its fifth consecutive game. Harvard improved to 15-3 and 2-0.

“We knew we had to hit shots early to stay in the game,” said Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier, whose team made 38 percent of its field-goal tries while using 13 players. “We had a lot of good (opportunities), but unfortunately we didn’t put them down.

“There were a lot of different people playing as we were trying to make adjustments (to Maldunas’ absence). This is a tough game to have freshmen play in, but we’re trying to develop them for the future.”

Dartmouth’s last lead came with the score 6-5 and six minutes expired. Harvard soon went on a 14-0 run and was leading, 21-6, with eight minutes remaining in the half. The visitors led 37-20 at intermission.

Big Green point guard Alex Mitola entered as his team’s third-leading scorer at 9.9 points per game, but attempted only three field goals and was scoreless in 25 minutes. The sophomore had four assists and four turnovers and showed no ability to create his own shots in the face of tough, man-to-man defense.

“When Gabas was here, he demanded an adjustment from other teams,” Cormier said. “When your best player takes the ball, it creates openings for other people to get in position. Harvard just said they weren’t going to help their center and everyone else, they were just going to lock up their people.”

Cormier’s answer was to go more to Gill, whose explosive athleticism puts pressure on foes in transition. Gill had four assists but he’s not as polished as Mitola and, although he’s improved in this regard from last winter, still gets himself into situations where he has almost no choice but to throw up wild, off-balance shots. Sunday, he connected on 6 of 13 field-goal attempts, including 1 of 3 from beyond the arc.

Maldunas watched the rout wearing a pink dress shirt and a forlorn expression. He is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder at 11.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.

“It felt terrible missing my first game here at Dartmouth,” said Maldunas, who is scheduled for surgery on Feb. 13 and expects to be sidelined between six months and a year. “I could see the chemistry wasn’t really there without me and it was really hard to watch.”

Without Maldunas, skinny freshman center Cole Harrison played 18 minutes, but he’s only gone full-tilt in practice for the last two weeks because of previous struggles with mononucleosis.

“He’s in terrible shape,” Cormier said. “He’s really out of sync, but at least today he got a feel for how hard you have to play and how hard teams are going to play him. This is not, just because he’s (6-feet-10), going to be easy for him. I’m sure he got that message loud and clear today.”

The coach said he and his staff are trying to emphasize that hard, collective play can help Dartmouth overcome Maldunas’ loss. But it’s not an easy sell and the coach knows it.

“If there’s any silver lining, it’s that a lot of young kids got their feet wet and saw how hard it is to compete at this level,” Cormier said. “There’s no one we have to play now… this year has changed a little bit. We are trying to develop our youth more than I had anticipated doing.”

Said Gill: “We gotta get in the gym and work on our game. Can we battle back and manage to overcome Gabas’ injury? That’s the question we have to ask ourselves in practices and in games every day for the rest of this season.”

Notes: Former Dartmouth coach Dave Faucher attended the game. … The largest cheers of the night came when free T-shirts were thrown into the crowd. … The Big Green shot 50 percent from the floor during the season’s first 11 contests, without shooting worse than 41 percent during any of them. Since Jan. 1, it has failed to crack 40 percent during five games. … The Crimson has won 10 straight in the series against Dartmouth, but the Big Green still holds a 94-84 advantage in the teams’ series.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.