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For Big Green, Momentum Gained

  • Dartmouth College point guard Alex Mitola speeds up the Leede Arena court Saturday against Cornell's Jake Matthews. Mitola scored 33 points to lead the Big Green to an 87-78, Ivy League victory. Photograph courtesy of Mark Washburn.

    Dartmouth College point guard Alex Mitola speeds up the Leede Arena court Saturday against Cornell's Jake Matthews. Mitola scored 33 points to lead the Big Green to an 87-78, Ivy League victory. Photograph courtesy of Mark Washburn.

  • Dartmouth College's Brandon McDonnell (25) and Tyler Melville leap to deny Cornell's Devin Cherry a clear look at the basket Saturday at Leede Arena. The Big Green won the teams' Ivy League game, 87-78. Photograph courtesy Mark Washburn

    Dartmouth College's Brandon McDonnell (25) and Tyler Melville leap to deny Cornell's Devin Cherry a clear look at the basket Saturday at Leede Arena. The Big Green won the teams' Ivy League game, 87-78. Photograph courtesy Mark Washburn

  • Dartmouth College point guard Alex Mitola speeds up the Leede Arena court Saturday against Cornell's Jake Matthews. Mitola scored 33 points to lead the Big Green to an 87-78, Ivy League victory. Photograph courtesy of Mark Washburn.
  • Dartmouth College's Brandon McDonnell (25) and Tyler Melville leap to deny Cornell's Devin Cherry a clear look at the basket Saturday at Leede Arena. The Big Green won the teams' Ivy League game, 87-78. Photograph courtesy Mark Washburn

Hanover — Taking advantage of an undermanned and overmatched opponent, the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team eased past Cornell, 87-78, on Saturday and put itself in position to earn its most victories during a season in more than a decade.

The Big Green has benefitted from a softer, nonconference schedule than in past winters, but given the loss of All-Ivy center Gabas Maldunas and two other players to season-ending injuries, the chance to finish with as many as 12 victories is not one Dartmouth is going to overlook. The team concludes its campaign this weekend with contests at Brown and Yale.

“It would be big to win the last few games and get some momentum going into next year,” said point guard Alex Mitola, who scored a career-high 33 points against the Big Red. “Our biggest problem is consistency. We can’t play well one night, then bad the next two and then get back on track. When we have a bad loss, we don’t respond to it well. We carry it with us into the next weekend and you can’t do that.”

Said coach Paul Cormier: “We just looked different. Is that because (Cornell) is not as good? I think they came in here pretty motivated and gave a pretty good effort and yet we still made shots. Hopefully we can finish up these next two games and feel better about ourselves staying in games with a chance to win.”

Cornell arrived with only 10 healthy players and only six of them delivered significant minutes. The Big Red fell to 2-24 overall and 1-11 in Ivy League play. The only team among the 345 in Division I with fewer victories is Southern Utah, which is 1-26. The Big Red’s lone league victory was over Dartmouth last month.

“Up there, we gave them a little confidence early and you can’t do that because teams feed off it,” Mitola said. “Tonight, we did a better job of keeping them from being confident.

“We went up double digits to start the second half and then they cut it to four. We did a good job of pushing it back to double digits and from there, we slowed the game down a little bit and made our foul shots and finished the game off.”

Cormier played the diminutive Mitola more at shooting guard Saturday, having lone senior Tyler Melville bring the ball up court much of the night. That allowed the New Jersey product to dodge and weave his way through traffic and find spots from where to launch open shots. Mitola had 11 points in the first half.

Dartmouth also received 17 points from reserve guard Kevin Crescenzi, who entered averaging only five points per game. Connor Boehm had 11 and Melville had 10. The Big Green was outscored, 34-20, in the paint but its bench produced 23 points while Cornell’s could muster only 14.

Dartmouth (10-16, 3-9) can equal its league victory total from last season by winning its final two contests. Even one more victory would be the most a Dartmouth team has produced overall since the 1998-99 squad went 14-12.

“If you had told me (in mid-January) that we would have had to beat Cornell at our place with two games to go to get our 10th win, I would have been very, very disappointed,” Cormier said. “I couldn’t have even imagined that. But if you’d told me we would have lost our leading scorer, leading rebounder and the person we developed our system around (in Maldunas) … I might have said that’s more like it.”

Injuries and illness mostly robbed the five-man freshman class of a chance to have an impact this season. Center Cole Harrison, 6-foot-10, has missed 19 games and forward Ike Ngwudo has barely played. Forward Wesley Dickinson shows defensive promise, but has been hobbled of late and sharpshooter Eli Harrison won’t get significant minutes until he fully commits to playing defense, Cormier said. Guard Mike Fleming is projected mostly as a backup at the point.

“We played with one senior and one junior tonight,” Cormier said. “Everybody else has at least two years to go. So should we be shocked with 10 wins? Probably not. But to say we’re satisfied, we’re very much not.”

The coach said Maldunas, who underwent knee surgery last month, is ahead of schedule on his rehabilitation and that the chance to take his team to Italy to train and play this summer will be a benefit. Cormier said he’s also pushing for his freshmen to spend part of the summer on campus so that on-court tutorials this spring can be extended.

“We have to get them committed and we’re going to work them extra hard, because we didn’t get the development with them that we wanted this season,” Cormier said. “We’ve got to get them up to speed. This is a huge off-season for player development.”

Notes: Both teams made 50 percent of their field-goal attempts, but Dartmouth made 60 percent (12-of-20) of its 3-point tries while Cornell could manage to drain only 25 percent (5-of-20). … According to the website verballcommits.com, Dartmouth has received a verbal commitment from Alex Wolf, a 6-foot-10, 240-pound senior at Greenwich (Conn.) High. … Melville entered Dartmouth in a recruiting class of six players. … Sterling Melville, Tyler’s older brother and a former Colgate player, took two half-court shots during an in-game promotion but neither effort even touched the rim.

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