HANOVER, N.H. — Dartmouth bolted to a 37-29 lead at the break, but Bucknell gradually chipped away before running off 15 straight points late in the second half to beat the Big Green on Tuesday night, 67-59. Mike Muscala had 18 points thanks to 10 perfect free throw attempts to lift Bucknell (10-6) to the road win. Dartmouth (3-12) was paced by freshman Gabas Maldunas and his third double-double of the season with 15 points and a game-high 10 rebounds in the fifth straight loss for the Big Green.
After taking that eight-point lead into the locker room, Dartmouth still maintained a six-point edge with under 11 minutes to play when freshman Mack McKearney sank a pair of free throws to make it a 47-41 contest. Bucknell’s Joe Willman began the comeback in earnest with a baseline jumper, which Steven Kaspar followed with a reverse layup to cut the deficit to two.
Maldunas briefly stalled the Bucknell rally when he hit a high-arcing 16-footer over the six-foot, 11-inch Muscala, but the Bison came charging back with their 15-point run. A pair of Muscala free throws was followed by a Willman jumper to knot the score at 49, then Bryson Johnson and Cameron Ayers each hit a three-pointer for a quick six-point Bucknell lead.
“When Bucknell tied the game, there seemed to be a sense of ‘here we go again’ from some of our guys,” said Dartmouth head coach Paul Cormier, who has seen his team lose five of six games this season when leading at the half. “That led to the open looks on the three-pointers, and we simply hung our heads after that. I told the players after the game that attitude simply was not acceptable. We have to find the mental toughness that we currently lack to win these kinds of games.”
When Willman canned another shot and Muscala got three points the old-fashioned way, the Bison lead had ballooned to 11, 60-49, with 2:49 to play. Sophomore Tyler Melville finally broke the run with a 12-footer on the baseline, then answered another Bucknell bucket with a three-point play of his own.
It looked like Dartmouth might put on a run of its own when senior David Rufful stole the inbound pass, but his short hook shot rattled out. Muscala hit all four of his foul shots in the final 1:31 to keep the Big Green at bay, and only a Melville three-pointer just before the buzzer kept the final differential in single digits.
The Bison shot at least 50 percent from both the floor (23-of-45) and the three-point arc (7-of-14) while converting 77.8 percent (14-of-18) at the free throw line. Joining Muscala in double figures were Willman with 15 points as he nailed seven of his 10 field goals, Ayers with 11 and Johnson off the bench with 10. Both Ayers and Johnson supplied six of the seven trifectas, while Willman handed out six of the 18 Bucknell assists.
Maldunas was 7-of-12 from the floor, including his first career three-pointer, to account for his 15 points. Melville tallied 12, including the final 10 Big Green points of the game, and senior Jabari Trotter chipped in 10, all in the first half, with four assists and no turnovers. Dartmouth could not match Bucknell’s accuracy, however, knocking down 21-of-51 (.412) overall and 6-of-17 (.353) from downtown.
After the Bison scored took an early 5-2 lead, Dartmouth ran off 10 straight points, the last six courtesy of Maldunas. The Big Green extended their lead to as much as 10 at 18-8 with nine minutes to go in the half. When Bucknell got back with four with six consecutive points, Dartmouth put the three-point line to use with a trio of triples in the final 7:10 of the half, not to mention three free throws by freshman John Golden after he was fouled while launching a long one from the corner.
One of the biggest factors in the Dartmouth’s eight-point halftime lead came on the offensive glass where the Green converted 11 second-chance points compared to none for the Bison. Another factor was ball-handling as Dartmouth coughed up the ball just twice while forcing eight turnovers which led to eight Big Green points.
Dartmouth begins Ivy League play this Saturday at 21st-ranked Harvard (12-2), which lost on the road to Fordham this evening. Tip is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Lavietes Pavilion. Bucknell completed its non-conference slate with this contest and begins its tour of the Patriot League on Saturday as well when it travels to Army for a 4 p.m. contest.