Late Surge Propels Bentley to 19th Northeast-10 Championship; Falcons Down AIC, 67-60

2016 Northeast-10 Champions!
2016 Northeast-10 Champions!

WALTHAM, Mass. – Bentley University freshman guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) launched a late 14-0 run with a three-ball from the right wing and the Falcons went on to earn their 19th Northeast-10 Conference women's basketball championship in come-from-behind fashion, 67-60 over American International College Sunday afternoon at the Dana Center.

Bentley, which improved to 25-5 after capturing the Northeast-10 title for the fifth time in six years, earned an automatic berth to next weekend's NCAA Division II East Regional, which will get underway on Friday.  The field will be announced at 10 pm tonight during the NCAA selection show on www.NCAA.com/liveschedule. The Falcons have now won 12 straight postseason contests, dating back to their march to the 2014 national championship, and their last 15 NE-10 tournament games.

Lewis' run-starting three, one of five that she made, came with the Falcons down seven with five-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter. Freshman forward Victoria Lux (Arundel,  Maine/ Thornton Academy) converted a three-point play with 4:27 left after a post feed from junior forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy), the NE-10 Championship Most Outstanding Player as well as the conference's Player of the Year.

Six seconds later, after the Falcon defense forced a turnover, sophomore guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) buried two free throws to turn a one-point deficit into a one-point lead, 52-51. Lewis came up with a steal on the ensuing possession and that led to two more Green free throws. She made the second with 3:46 left to make it 53-51.

After AIC turned it over for the third straight possession with senior co-captain Jane White (Amherst, N.H./Souhegan HS) coming up with the steal, Lewis drained another from downtown, this one from about four feet beyond the arc. It stayed 56-51 for more than a minute until Lewis capped the surge with a runner for a seven-point lead.  

Freshman forward Dana Watts (Rochester, N.Y.) ended the Yellow Jackets' scoring drought three seconds shy of four minutes with two free throws with 1:36 left, bringing AIC within five.

An offensive rebound and two free throws by Green with 1:03 remaining returned the lead to seven. Gemma took a charge at the other end and Green sank two more from the stripe for a 62-53 lead with 41.9 seconds left.

Bentley, whose 31 points in the fourth quarter was a season-high, locked up the victory by making five of eight free throws in the final 34 seconds, including four of six by sophomore guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School).

AIC finished the game with 13 turnover with eight of those coming in the fourth after the Falcons picked up the defensive intensity. That led to an 11-2 Bentley advantage in points off turnovers after coach Barbara Stevens' team didn't have any through three.

Neither team could gain any separation during a low-scoring first half that ended with the Falcons up three, 27-24, and included eight lead changes and five ties. Only in the final 2:22, in the midst of an 8-0 Bentley run, was the differential greater than three.

The run, which included threes by Smith and Gemma, turned a 20-19 deficit into a 27-20 lead for the Falcons. AIC responded by scoring the final four points before the break, once again making it a one-possession game.

The third quarter was a rough one for the Falcons, who managed only four points (all on Gemma free throws) in the first seven minutes, and a total of nine points. On the other hand, AIC used a 13-3 run to open up a 43-34 lead with 1:16 left until the fourth.

Lewis, an All-Tournament Team selection, led five double-figure scorers for the Falcons with 18 points as she made five of nine from deep. Lux scored 14 on 6-of-9 shooting, Gemma and Smith both netted 12, and Green provided 11 points and six rebounds. Gemma led the way on the boards with nine and her three assists was second to Smith's four.

Senior guard Brianna Bishop (Suffield, Conn.) had 19 points for AIC, which will likely receive the number two seed to next week's regional tournament after a 25-5 season. Senior forward Kamika Mason (Long Beach, Calif.) also played well for the Yellow Jackets with a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double.

Neither team shot well (Bentley 32 percent, AIC 31), but the Falcons had the edge in threes (7-4) and at the line (26-32 to 18-20). Bentley also outrebounded the Jackets, 41-39, including 21-17 in the second half when AIC was limited to five offensive rebounds. That came after 11 in the first half, which led to 11 second-chance points.