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Relishing his role: Sophomore thrives as starter for Big Green basketball

  • Dartmouth's Taurus Samuels (1) drives for the hoop against a Boston University defender during their non-conference matchup in Boston on Dec. 14, 2019. (Dartmouth Athletics - Brian Foley)

  • Dartmouth's Taurus Samuels (1) moves the ball upcourt against a Penn defender during their game in Philadelphia on Feb. 1, 2020. (Dartmouth Athletics - Willis Glassgow)

  • Dartmouth's Taurus Samuels (Dartmouth Athletics - Gil Talbot)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/19/2020 10:05:31 PM
Modified: 2/19/2020 10:05:22 PM

HANOVER — It’s Tuesday afternoon and more than 3 inches of snow have fallen outside Leede Arena. Inside the Dartmouth men’s basketball team room sits a sweaty Taurus Samuels.

Fresh out of practice, the San Diego native asks about the snow. He’s in the midst of enduring his second winter of Northeast weather, but this one has been mild compared to last.

This season hasn’t left much time for Samuels to relish the wintry outdoors between filling in for the Big Green’s top scorer and taking over as point guard for a program that hasn’t finished .500 in league play since 2015.

“Taking over as a starting point guard in college is a dream, but it’s been difficult,” Samuels said in between swigs of water.

Finishing up a workout this summer, he checked his phone to see a text message from starting point guard Brendan Barry. The rising senior leader delivered the news that he had endured a season-ending hip injury. In that moment, Samuels’ heart was pulled in two directions like puppies wrestling for a chew toy.

The thought of losing Barry, the main point producer for Dartmouth, was tough to swallow. Samuels had planned on competing for the starting job once preseason began, but taking over without Barry’s presence on the court was a lot.

Still, there was that side of Samuels who knew that Barry’s absence would allow him to fully step into the role he’d been waiting for since his high school days.

Samuels wasn’t receiving too many college offers as a point guard floating around the 6-feet-tall mark. Montana, Northern Arizona and Cal Poly all showed interest along with a few other Ivy League schools. None showed enough interest to leave Samuels confident in his future.

But when Dartmouth coach Dave McLaughlin saw him play on the AAU circuit, he pulled the trigger and extended an offer to Samuels.

“I’m not playing to the standards I’d like to be playing at right now,” Samuels admitted. “But in the back of my head, I know I deserve to be in this league. I’m out there trying to prove that I belong out there and prove I can play.”

With only six games remaining on the schedule, the sample size of Samuels’ play while in full command of the offense has become clear.

He can be the Big Green’s chief scorer when it needs the help. For example, he scored a career-high 22 points in a loss at Boston University on Dec. 14.

In what could be Dartmouth’s performance of the year, a season-opening victory at Buffalo on Nov. 8, the sophomore tallied 16 points in only the second start of his career.

Samuels has turned the basketball over 34 times this season, an average of 1.49 turnovers a game. He has a 1.33 assist-to-turnover ratio, a statistic that puts the number of assists in context with the number of turnovers they have caused, which is intended to be representative of a player’s ball control.

“He was thrust into this role, but it was a role he was ready for,” said McLaughlin, who has spent plenty of time this season talking with Samuels about strategy. “I remember one of our last team meetings last spring, I said, ‘Make decisions hard for me by the way you work this summer.’ I think he took that to heart.

“He’s a natural leader; I can’t really define what that means. All I know is that he’s not afraid to speak his mind. He’s not afraid to show energy consistently, and he’s selfless. Even when he’s not wanting to bring energy, he is going to bring it. That’s the highest form of leadership.”

The energy McLaughlin referenced has been palpable in certain situations.

In Dartmouth’s 70-66 home loss to Harvard on Jan. 25, he finished with a team-high 18 points. Throughout the game, Samuels was visibly frustrated in moments while also letting loose a few yells of excitement.

In a postgame interview after the loss, however, his raw emotions were obvious. That’s what happens after a loss at home to a top rival.

Samuels is still trying to make his way through his first complete season of play. He admitted that part of the learning curve is the losses.

Finding the formula for the best game preparation has been a goal, too. Samuels is trying to shoot a healthy routine of pregame shots and making sure to focus on film.

“I love Taurus. He’s the man,” Barry said earlier this season. “Before the first game, I pulled him aside and said, ‘This is your show. Don’t worry about what anyone is saying. You’ve got the ball. You’re running everything.’ ”

Samuels has been running the show since then.

He averaged 16.5 minutes last season and has nearly doubled the figure this season.

The Big Green ended a nine-game losing streak and 14-game Ivy League slide in last weekend’s sweep of Columbia and Cornell. Samuels played a large role in the wins thanks to spreading the ball around; teammate Chris Knight averaged more than 20 points in the two victories to earn Ivy League player of the week recognition.

Dartmouth (9-14, 2-6 Ivy) still has plenty of climbing to do. Samuels has every intention of pushing the Big Green back into the conversation, even if that means only making the Ivy League tournament.

“I think any guy that’s playing college basketball has the dream of playing in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “Of course we talk about it. That is the destination. And yeah, we’re still trying to make the Ivy League tournament.”

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Notes: Samuels has started all but one game this season and is averaging 9.1 points per game. … Dartmouth hosts Penn on Friday night and Princeton on Saturday. The Tigers share the Ivy League lead with Yale at 6-2 in conference play. The Quakers are right behind at 5-3, tied with Harvard and Brown. … A win on Friday would give Dartmouth three consecutive Ivy League victories for the first time since the end of the 2014-15 regular season. … The Big Green would have to go 5-1 in its last six games to finish at 7-7 (.500) in Ancient Eight competition.

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.




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