PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Junior R.J. Griffin scored a game-high 15 points for the Dartmouth Big Green in their season opener at Rutgers of the Big East Conference, but the host Scarlet Knights were able to fend off the Ivy Leaguers in front of 5,279 fans at The RAC, 62-56. The difference in the game came on the boards where Rutgers (1-0) enjoyed a 37-23 advantage that led to nine more second-chance points.
Dartmouth (0-1) shot just 36.5 percent (19-of-52) for the game and only 18.2 percent (4-of-22) from beyond the arc, but managed to keep close by hitting 14-of-16 foul shots (.875) and forcing 16 turnovers. At the other end, the Scarlet Knights canned 22-of-46 (.478) from the floor with just a pair of three-pointers in four attempts. Dane Miller was the only Rutgers player to score in double figures with 12 points, hitting 4-of-5 shots with a triple and 3-of-5 at the line.
"We knew that it was going to be a challenge," said Dartmouth head coach Paul Cormier after the game, "and I thought the kids did a pretty good job. I found out which of my freshmen are ready to play, and some did not respond as well as we hoped. But all in all, I think that we are a better team now than before we played this game, and that is what you want as a coach, to see improvement."
Rutgers never trailed in the game, jumping out to an early 10-2 lead with five points coming from Myles Mack. But the Knights also never led by anything more than single digits as the Big Green kept clawing their way back into the game. Freshman Gabas Maldunas got the Dartmouth offense stirring on a fastbreak layup thanks to a feed from Griffin. After Miller sank one of two at the line, Griffin provided a three-point play on another fastbreak opportunity.
A few minutes later, Maldunas paired up with classmate Jvonte Brooks to bring Dartmouth back to even at 15-all. Maldunas began a 6-0 spurt with a jumper in the lane, Brooks dropped in a layup on after Maldunas grabbed an offensive rebound, and Maldunas stole the ball and scored on the resulting break.
That would be the only tie score of the night as Rutgers ripped off the next nine points, including a three-point play by Eli Carter. Freshman John Golden ended the run with a three-point bomb, only to have Miller counter with a trifecta of his own. Griffin trumped that triple with his first trey of the night, making it a 27-21 game with just over four minutes left in the half.
After Malick Kone sank a long jumper for the Scarlet Knights, Dartmouth finished the half on a 9-2 run, capped by a dramatic, off-balance three-pointer by Golden just before the buzzer, pulling the Green within one at the break, 31-30. Dartmouth did a good job of keeping Rutgers off the offensive glass in the opening half, yielding just a pair of second chances, plus scored nearly half of its points (14) in the paint.
The Scarlet Knights tightened their defense to start the second half, holding Dartmouth without a field goal for the first eight minutes while building the lead back up to nine points at 41-32. The only two Big Green points came courtesy of Griffin at the line following a technical foul on Rutgers head coach Mike Rice for voicing his displeasure on some fouls called against his squad. But junior center Matt LaBove canned a short jumper, then tossed a terrific outlet pass after a rebound to senior captain David Rufful, who finished off the break with a layup, which led to Rutgers calling a timeout.
Gilvydas Biruta supplied a layup for the host, and the difference on the scoreboard stayed between six and eight points for more than four minutes as the two teams traded buckets and foul shots. Golden cut the lead down to four at 50-46 after another fastbreak layup, but again Rutgers extended the lead back to nine with 3:45 to play. The Big Green hurt themselves a bit by missing the front end of a one-and-one twice during the stretch, the only two foul shots they missed all night.
Still the Green would not surrender. LaBove completed a three-point play after an offensive rebound, Brooks drained two from the line, and with 1:12 to go, Griffin rained down a three-pointer to make it a one-possession game at 59-56. Those would be the final points for Dartmouth, and Rutgers managed to convert 3-of-4 free throws in the final minute to send the partisan crowd home happy.
Brooks, Golden and senior Jabari Trotter each had eight points to support Griffin’s team-high 15, while Golden and Rufful led the rebounding efforts with five apiece. LaBove added seven points, all in the second half, while equaling a career-high with 30 minutes on the court.
A trio of Scarlet Knights had nine points — Biruta, Carter and Mack — while Miller and Mike Poole nabbed six caroms each for Rutgers.
Dartmouth next plays its home opener on Wednesday, Nov. 16, against twin-state rival Vermont at 7 p.m. Fans that don’t come out to see the young Big Green squad can watch and/or listen on their computer at DartmouthSports.com with Dave Collins calling all the action. Rutgers travels to Florida to take on the Miami Hurricanes on Tuesday at 7 p.m.