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Dartmouth Has Designs on Moving Up in Ivies

  • Dartmouth guard Malik Gill dribbles down the court against Lyndon State during their match at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H. on October 10, 2013. Dartmouth won the game ---- (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Dartmouth guard Malik Gill dribbles down the court against Lyndon State during their match at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H. on October 10, 2013. Dartmouth won the game ---- (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth guard Kevin Crescenzi dunks the ball against Lyndon State during their match at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H. on October 10, 2013. Dartmouth won the game ---- (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

    Dartmouth guard Kevin Crescenzi dunks the ball against Lyndon State during their match at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H. on October 10, 2013. Dartmouth won the game ---- (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth guard Malik Gill dribbles down the court against Lyndon State during their match at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H. on October 10, 2013. Dartmouth won the game ---- (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)
  • Dartmouth guard Kevin Crescenzi dunks the ball against Lyndon State during their match at Leede Arena in Hanover, N.H. on October 10, 2013. Dartmouth won the game ---- (Valley News - Elijah Nouvelage)

Hanover — Is this the season the Dartmouth College men’s basketball team returns to respectability? That question wasn’t answered by the Big Green’s 106-61 dismantling of hapless Lyndon State during the teams’ season opener at Leede Arena on Sunday. However, the mismatch at least gave the hosts a decent run under game circumstances.

Reserve guard Malik Gill led Dartmouth with 14 points in 13 minutes, backup forward Kevin Crescenzi and starting forward Connor Boehm each had 13 points and starting guard Tyler Melville, the team’s lone senior, chipped in 11.

The competition takes a significant step up Wednesday when Bryant (0-1) invades Leede Arena. The Bulldogs lost at No. 15 Gonzaga, 100-76, in their opener but were 19-12 last season, including a 79-66 victory over Dartmouth.

“They manhandled us,” said Big Green coach Paul Cormier, whose squad rallied to win three of its final four games last season.

Dartmouth returns its starting five for the first time in years. Guards Alex Mitola and Melville, forwards Boehm and John Golden and center Gabas Maldunas are expected to lead a push to reach 10 victories for the first time since 2007-08 and perhaps post the program’s first winning record since 1998-99. The Big Green was 9-19 overall and 5-9 in Ivy League play last winter, its best marks since 2008-09.

“I’m not a prognosticator as far as putting a number (of victories) out there, but we’re in the lower tier of the Ivy League, and we’d like to think we’re good enough to move up,” Cormier said.

For that to happen, Dartmouth’s returners will have to show significant improvement and consistency, but at least the team isn’t forced to play any of its five freshman just to be competitive.

“We’re bringing back guys who played well last year, and so it’s a much different atmosphere than in the past,” Golden said. “The freshmen can see how hard we work, and we can tell them where we’ve been and where we want to go. We want to build something so they don’t have to go through what some of the older guys have.”

Maldunas was a second-team All-Ivy selection as a sophomore last winter, averaging a team-high 11.4 points and 6.9 rebounds. As goes the 6-foot-9, 230-pound Lithuanian, so goes Dartmouth for the most part. And the problem is that during his first two years in Hanover, Maldunas has shown up some nights and not others. Is he now ready to give his all every night?

“I think so; I definitely hope so,” Golden said. “The end of last season was huge for him, to be able to see that he can do it every night. He’s been more aggressive, and if he plays as hard as he can, he’s one of the best players in the league for sure.

“We’ve seen what he can do, and we’re expecting huge things from him. On the nights he doesn’t step up, the rest of us have to be there so we have more options.”

Mitola, the team’s diminutive point guard, averaged 11.3 points and had 55 assists last winter, but also 62 turnovers. His 65 baskets from beyond the 3-point arc were a program record for freshmen. Gill, another pint-sized backcourt man, possesses astounding athleticism but was often out of control as a freshman last season, despite finishing second in the Ivies in steals. Melville is steady and averaged 7.5 points as a junior, leading the team in field-goal percentage.

The 6-7, 235-pound Boehm, a roughneck sophomore, averaged 8.7 points and 5.4 rebounds as a rookie, scoring in double figures a dozen times. He’s nimble enough to play forward but tough enough to spell Maldunas in the paint. Dartmouth hopes 6-10 freshman Cole Harrison can also help, but he’s been in the college’s infirmary of late with a nasty case of flu.

Golden, billed as a long-range shooter when he arrived on campus three years ago, has become more well-rounded, able to drive the lane and play strong defense. He averaged 7.5 points last winter but continued to show frustration when things didn’t go well. Overcoming that hurdle will be key for his development and that of the team.

“We’re still a work in progress, but we’ll go into every game to win it and not just to keep it close,” said Cormier, who is 20-67 since starting his second stint at Dartmouth’s in 2010. “We’re not super quick or athletic, but we’ve got some height and depth we hope will offset those deficiencies and keep them from rearing their ugly heads too often.”

Said Golden: “There’s confidence on our team this year and that’s different. We’re ready to play everyone tough and we’re not crossing any games off (as an automatic loss), especially in the league.

“I think it’s wide open this year and we’ll have a say in how things play out.”

Notes: For the second consecutive season, Dartmouth’s roster averages fewer than one year of collegiate experience per player, at 0.93. Last winter’s team averaged 0.73, the second-youngest squad in NCAA Division I. … Seven of the Big Green’s 15 players are sophomores. … Lyndon State, 12-14 last season, is 0-2 against Dartmouth. The Hornets feature three players from Vermont. … Dartmouth’s last 100-point effort came against Keene State in 1999, a 112-97 Big Green victory. The program has hit the century mark eight times in its 113 seasons... Incoming Bryant has four Australians.

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