With a new fast-paced offense in place, a 27-year-old coach, and a strong supporting cast around star forward Hunter Matteson, the Dartmouth boys’ basketball program is not only surging, they are reinvented.
The Indians are 12-1 overall and 4-0 in the Southeast Conference. On Jan. 3, they beat league power Brockton for the first time since 2002 and next month they’ll play in the state tournament for the first time since 2016.
Credit, among other things, goes to the culture established by first-time varsity head coach Nick Simonetti.
“Coach Simonetti really understands us and he helps us bond,” sophomore point guard Aiden Smith said. “Last year, I felt like we didn’t have that chemistry. This year it’s different. We’re playing as a team, we’re winning, and we’re having fun.”
Simonetti, a 2014 Dartmouth graduate and third on the program’s career scoring list, was hired in October after spending the past four years as the junior varsity coach, starting when he was still a senior at Bridgewater State. He immediately set a culture built on confidence, communication, and accountability.
Still, a culture takes time to build and the Indians didn’t see the full picture until a loss, coincidentally. In the opening round of the Skip Karam Classic at Durfee High, Dartmouth lost 61-57 to Taunton, a game Simonetti feels they should have won had they not missed double-digit free throws.
However, the defeat revealed Dartmouth could play with anyone. The win at Brockton was followed by a sweep of New Bedford, Durfee, and Bridgewater-Raynham in the first cycle of SEC play.
“It started to click that we had something special this year and we haven’t looked back,” said Simonetti. “We’ve been playing so well and confidently. They’ve bought into what I implemented.”
Dartmouth is scoring 70.8 points per game and allowing 52.9, utilizing an AAU-style offense built around the 6-foot-7-inch Matteson.
The first cousin of Los Angeles Lakers forward Cole Swider, Matteson is averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds per game, dominating the paint as a scorer and rebounder, but also keeping defenses honest with his ability to shoot the 3-pointer.
Since attention is always focused on Matteson, open shots are available and Smith (14 points per game), seniors Dylan Gomes and Jake Chiquito, and juniors Adam Mogawer and John Emile have stepped up as key contributors.
“I love playing fast and I love spacing,” said Simonetti, who played AAU for BABC with future pros Bonzie Colson II and Wayne Selden.
“We like to rebound and push in transition as much as possible. We have some really great shooters and creating that space allows Hunter to go to work down low.”
Over the last 15 years, Dartmouth has produced just six winning seasons with the best (16-4) coming in 2008 during a run to the Division 2 South final.
This year’s team is creating a buzz around the community.
Matteson said he and a few teammates were eating breakfast at a diner in town over the weekend when a 4-year old boy and his parents came over and said hello. When Dartmouth hosted New Bedford and named the court after longtime former coach Steve Gasper, both Simonetti and Gasper remarked how they had never seen the Carlin Lynch Activity Center that crowded.
“We’re doing something that Dartmouth hasn’t done in a while and it’s affecting the town,” said Matteson. “We’re getting a lot of recognition. It feels really special.”
Ranked No. 8 in the latest MIAA Division 2 power rankings, the Dartmouth boys have never advanced to a state semifinal or final. But Simonetti wouldn’t talk about the tournament yet. Neither would Matteson. Or Smith.
“It’s all about taking it slow, one game at a time,” said Smith. “I think we can do really well in the tournament but it’s about getting there first. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
▪ The past two seasons, Chris Fraioli prepared his Dedham boys to stop Norwood star Noah Beaudet.
Fraioli coached his players to force Beaudet, a lethal shooter, to put the ball on the floor and make quick reads. But Beaudet torched the Marauders for 27 points as a sophomore and 29 last winter.
But when Beaudet scored 27 points against Dedham Friday to eclipse the 1,000 point mark in a 63-58 Tri-Valley win, Fraioli was looking on from the Norwood bench.
“As an opposing coach, you definitely have an appreciation for what he does, but it’s also frustrating. You’re like, ‘Why can’t we stop this kid,’ ” Fraioli said. “Then you’re on his side, and you watch him and you’re like, ‘This kid is a pretty gifted scorer.’ ”
After 25 years at Dedham, Fraioli resigned last summer and took Norwood job when Kristen McDonnell
Beaudet started the game 12 points shy of a grand and hit 1,000 in the third quarter. Then, he poured in 15 points down the stretch to help the Mustangs (9-2) hold off Dedham (6-4).
“It’s such an incredible individual accomplishment for all of the time and the hours that you put into your craft,” Fraioli said. “But it’s also a credit to the players that he has around him.”
⋅ Methuen junior guard Drew Eason buried a winning 3-pointer with one second remaining to lift the Rangers in a 61-60 win over Haverhill Friday . . . Former Cambridge star Jakigh Dottin eclipsed 1,000 career points at the collegiate level earlier this month when Nichols College beat Suffolk.
⋅ Lawrence (12-1) earned a 54-49 win at rival Central Catholic (8-2) to stay atop the MIAA Division 1 power ratings. In the latest release of the ratings Friday, defending champion Malden Catholic (11-0) remained atop D2 and defending D3 champion St. Mary’s was atop its division . . . Weymouth pulled off another stunning upset by taking down then-No. 5 Newton North, 57-51, on Friday. The Wildcats (6-6) also took down host North Quincy, 53-49, in the final of the Adams Holiday Tournament on Dec. 30.
Games to watch
Tuesday, Franklin at Mansfield, 6:30 p.m. — The top teams in the Hockmock Kelley-Rex clash in a matchup between state title contenders. Tenth-ranked Mansfield (12-1) bounced back from a rare loss to Sharon and No. 6 Franklin (9-0) has been perfect thus far.
Tuesday, St. Mary’s at Brockton, 7 p.m. — The ninth-ranked defending Division 3 state champions continue their tough nonleague schedule by traveling down to Brockton for a tough matchup against the talented Boxers.
Thursday, Burke at New Mission, 5:30 p.m. — Burke came up short in close losses to Charlestown and St. Mary’s over the past two weeks, but the 15th-ranked Bulldogs can get back on track with a key Boston City League win at New Mission.
Friday, TechBoston at Latin Academy, 5:30 p.m. — Osman Aden and 17th-ranked Latin look like a prime contender in the BCL again and No. 19 TechBoston has continued its winning ways under new head coach Justin Desai.
Friday, Catholic Memorial at Malden Catholic, 6:30 p.m. — These top-five ranked teams met on Jan. 10, with the Lancers pulling out an 76-63 road win to continue their recent dominance of the Catholic Conference.
Correspondents Mitch Fink and Nate Weitzer also contributed to this story.