BURLINGTON, Vt. — The upset was close enough to taste.
Dartmouth got two three-point attempts off in the final seconds, but could not get either to fall as Vermont survived at home in a 52-50 contest at Patrick Gymnasium on Wednesday night. Sophomore Gabas Maldunas led the Big Green efforts with 14 points while classmate John Golden added 12, but it was not enough to keep Dartmouth (2-6) from suffering a tough road loss.
Vermont (6-3) got 15 points off the bench from Clancy Rugg — 12 in the first half — and 13 apiece from Luke Apfeld and Trey Blue.
Apfeld sank two free throws with 29.7 seconds left in the game, putting the Catamounts up by two, leaving Dartmouth with the opportunity to send the game into overtime or take the lead with a three-pointer. Freshman point guard Alex Mitola fired up a three from the top of the key, but only drew iron. The rebound, however, went off the leg of a Catamount with 2.8 seconds remaining, giving the Big Green one last shot.
The inbound pass came to Golden in the corner, who launched a three-pointer. The shot was a bit short as the horn sounded to end the game, leaving Dartmouth on the short end of the score.
The Big Green trailed for most of the game, and rarely by more than four points throughout the second half. Three times Dartmouth knotted the score after the intermission before finally taking a 45-44 lead when freshman Connor Boehm hit the first free throw of a one-and-one. Apfeld responded with a three-point play, only to have sophomore Jvonte Brooks respond in the same manner for the Green to maintain that one-point advantage at 48-47.
Again Vermont came up with a three-point play with 3:42 showing on the clock, this time by Rugg on a set play after a Catamount timeout. The two teams would go nearly three minutes before changing the scoreboard, thanks to Mitola who stole the ball, drove to the free throw lane and lofted a rainbow that found gold through the hoop, tying the game once more at 50-all with 49.7 seconds left.
Vermont went back to Apfeld on the blocks, drawing a foul to go to the line for two freebies. He converted both shots, and the Big Green could not get either three-point try to find the bottom of the net.
Dartmouth took an 8-3 lead out of the gate with four of the five starters providing two points apiece and forcing Vermont to call an early timeout. Whatever head coach John Becker told his squad worked as the Big Green were held scoreless for nearly seven minutes while the Catamounts rattled off 14 straight points with Blue and Rugg providing five each.
Junior Tyler Melville broke the run with a triple from the left wing — the only points from the Dartmouth bench of the night — and after a Maldunas bucket in the paint, Mitola netted a trifecta from the corner to quickly cut the deficit to one at 17-16. Following a Vermont free throw, the Big Green tied the score three straight times, the last on a soft shot high off the glass by Brooks.
Rugg then scored seven straight points with a three-pointer sandwiched between four free throws, leading to a Dartmouth timeout with just over a minute left in the half. Head coach Paul Cormier found the right strategy as Boehm knocked down a shot just inside the foul line. Brooks came up with a steal at the other end, and Golden drained a three-pointer as the half came to a close, closing the gap to two at the intermission, 29-27.
The Catamounts didn’t take many shots in the first half, nor did they miss many, going 9-of-16 (.563) from the floor and a perfect 4-of-4 from beyond the three-point arc. But it was the 7-of-10 showing at the charity stripe that allowed them to take that two-point lead into the locker room. The second half was a different story as Vermont missed all five of its three-point attempts while knocking down just 8-of-21 (.381) of its field goals.
At the other end, Dartmouth finished the game shooting 31.6 percent (18-of-57) overall, but just 22.6 percent (7-of-31) after halftime. The Big Green did solve their recent woes at the free throw line, sinking 10-of-12 (.833), plus held a slim 33-31 edge on the boards with 16 on the offensive glass. As a result, Dartmouth attempted 20 more shots than its host.
Both Boehm and Maldunas narrowly missed out on double-doubles with the former tallying nine points while leading all players with 10 rebounds, and the latter hauling in nine boards to go with his 14 points. Maldunas also blocked three shots while Mitola swiped four steals.
For the Catamounts, Rugg did not miss a single shot, going 4-for-4 from the floor with two treys and 5-for-5 at the line. Brian Voelkel led Vermont with seven rebounds and Josh Elbaum dished out four assists.
Dartmouth continues its eight-game road swing when it travels to Arizona State on Saturday at 3 p.m. (EST) for the first game between the two schools in 23 years. Next up for Vermont is a trek to Niagara to play the Purple Eagles on Sunday at 2 p.m.