WALTHAM, Mass. – Junior forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy) scored 20 points and sophomore guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School) came up big off the bench as Bentley University closed out the regular season with a 58-50 win over Merrimack College in Northeast-10 Conference women's basketball Tuesday night at the Dana Center.
Bentley, which had already wrapped up the NE-10 Northeast Division title, improved to 22-5 overall and 16-5 in the conference. The Falcons will have the homecourt advantage throughout the NE-10 championship tournament and will host the winner of Friday night's Stonehill-Le Moyne game Sunday afternoon at 2 pm.
The win was the 950th career victory for Bentley coach Barbara Stevens, making her just the fifth women's basketball coach in NCAA history to reach that milestone. It was also the 999th victory in Bentley women's basketball history
The Falcons went wire-to-wire for the victory for the seventh time this season but it wasn't easy as they could never get much separation from the upset-minded Warriors, who finished their season at 13-14 (9-12 NE-10).
With the lead at four after a three from Merrimack guard Caitlyn Garger (Hicksville, N.Y.) with 3:06 to play, Smith came up with a steal and took in in for a basket with 2:28 left. The Warrior bench was whistled for a technical on the next possession and Smith made one of two from the line for a 51-44 lead.
Gemma hit one of two with 1:33 to play, making it 52-44, but the visitors responded with a three-point play by senior guard Tia Scott (New York, N.Y.) seven seconds later. After the Falcons ran off most of the shot clock, Smith threw in a desperation three to beat the buzzer, restoring the advantage to eight with 54.4 seconds left.
Scott came up with another three-point play six seconds later, but freshman guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) locked up the win by making three of six free throws in the final 35 seconds.
Bentley started fast with a 10-2 run fueled by Lewis. She opened the game with a three from the left wing and followed with a deep two-point basket from the left corner. A free throw by freshman forward Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/ Thornton Academy), a base line drive for two by Lewis and a Gemma lay-up completed the opening salvo.
The Falcons were up 19-10 after one and went into intermission up 10, 32-23, in a turnover-filled first half. The home team gave up the ball 14 times, two more than the Warriors.
Bentley offset its first-half carelessness by outshooting Merrimack 44-24 percent. Seven different Falcons scored during the first 20 minutes with Gemma leading the way with a dozen.
Merrimack scored the first seven points of the second half but Bentley bounced back to take a 42-35 lead into the fourth. The final quarter began with three-point plays from Gemma and sophomore guard Kristin Brown (Poulsbo, Wash./North Kitsap HS) producing the Falcons' biggest lead of the night, 48-35.
The next nine points, a run capped by Garger's three, belonged to Merrimack, reducing the lead to four with three minutes to play.
Gemma, in addition to 20 points, stuffed the stat sheet with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks. Lewis was the other Falcon to score in doubles as she provided 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals.
Smith's night included nine points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Scott led Merrimack with 18 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals in her final collegiate game.
Bentley shot only 37 percent but limited the Warriors to 30 percent, including 4 of 18 from three. Both teams had 22 turnovers, Merrimack had a 38-37 rebound advantage and the Falcons made one more from downtown.