WALTHAM, Mass. – Sophomore guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School HS) scored four points and came up with a loose ball in the final seven seconds as Bentley University pulled out a 78-74 victory over Southern Connecticut State University in the semifinals of the Northeast-10 Conference Women's Basketball Championships Thursday night at the Dana Center.
The victory propelled the 24-5 Falcons into the NE-10 championship game for the record 26th time, and they'll look for their 19th title Sunday afternoon (1 pm) at the Dana Center against American International College, the number one seed out of the Southwest Division.
Freshman guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) led Bentley with a career-best 21 points, along with a slew of other stats, and junior forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy), the Northeast-10 Player of the Year, followed with 20.
It was a game of runs and the last one belonged to Bentley after the Owls (19-11) ran off nine unanswered to take a 74-72 lead with 1:36 to play.
Lewis evened the contest with 1:05 remaining when she took a pass from Smith and laid it in for the tying basket, just beating the shot clock buzzer. The Falcons came up with a defensive stop at the other end with Lewis collecting the rebound. After Lewis was in trouble directly in front of the Bentley bench, Women's Basketball Hall of Fame coach Barbara Stevens took a timeout with 25.5 seconds on the game clock and 23 on the shot clock.
After play resumed, Smith drove to the basket for two with seven seconds left and was fouled on the play. She completed the and-one with the free throw, making it a three-point game at 77-74.
After the Owls advanced the ball on a timeout, Lewis deflected a pass and Smith came up with it. She was fouled with 2.8 seconds showing and made the second of two to lock up the victory, making it a two-possession game.
Southern Connecticut scored the game's first six points as Bentley was kept off the scoreboard for the opening three minutes. Sparked by sophomore guard Kristin Brown (Poulsbo, Wash./North Kitsap HS) off the bench, the Falcons embarked on a 13-2 surge to go up five at 13-8. Brown had a couple baskets during that stretch and also drew a charge at the other end.
There would be two more lead changes before the two teams finished the opening quarter even at 19 apiece.
Lewis erupted for 14 points during a second quarter in which Bentley outscored the Owls 25-11 over the first 9:40 while shooting 71 percent from the floor. SCSU tallied the final three points before the break with the Falcon lead standing at 44-33 at intermission.
Southern came out strong in the third quarter and took a 53-52 lead on a put-back by senior forward Jackie Beathea (Annandale, Va.) with 2:31 left. That capped a 20-8 run that included three baskets from senior forward Danielle Powell (Middletown, N.Y.).
Lewis tied it up with a free throw, beginning a 6-0 run that also included a Gemma lay-up and the second three-pointer of the night from freshman guard Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS). That put Bentley back in front, 58-53, and the lead stood at three, 58-55, after Southern junior forward Taylor McLaughlin (Colchester, Conn.) scored the final basket of the third quarter.
The final stanza began with Beathea, one of the nation's top rebounders, picking up her fifth foul and a technical just 26 seconds in. She was limited to two points and two rebounds in just 11 minutes of action.
With the lead at one midway through the fourth, Bentley received consecutive threes from sophomore guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS), one from each side of the court, to extend the lead to seven, 72-65 with 4:38 to play.
It would be three-and-a-half minutes before Bentley scored again and by that time, the Falcons were down two after the Owls ran off nine unanswered. Powell scored the first four, sophomore guard Murphy Murad (Storrs, Conn.) dropped in a three and junior guard Maria Weselyj (Marlborough, Conn.) drove the baseline for a go-ahead lay-up.
Lewis, who bettered her previous best by one, made 9 of her 13 shots, including a pair of threes, and also filled the stat sheet with five rebounds, four steals, three blocks and three assists. Gemma made all seven of her free throws en route to 20 points and also had seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.
Green followed with 12, and both Smith and McConnell finished with six points off the bench.
McLaughlin led Southern with 22 points and both Powell and Weselyj followed with 14.
Bentley outshot SCSU 50-42 percent with both clubs connecting seven times from three. The Owls had the rebound (38-31) and turnover (14-16) advantage but the Falcons were more efficient at the line, making 15 of 17. Southern attempted nearly the same number (16) but misfired five times.
AIC advanced with a 75-67 win over New Haven after trailing by as many as 15 in the opening quarter.
Bentley and AIC met once during the regular season with the Falcons prevailing out in Springfield, 72-65, behind a 17-point effort from Lewis.