WALTHAM, Mass. – For the fifth time in the last six years, the Bentley University women's basketball team is heading to the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Elite Eight after capturing the 2016 East Regional with a come-from-behind 79-74 win over NYIT Monday night at the Dana Center.
The Falcons, down by as many as 14 in the first half and ten at the break, came storming back with a 27-11 third quarter, powered by freshman guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England), and held off the valiant Bears throughout the fourth with the lead as high as seven only for a total 30 seconds.
Bentley, which cut down the nets for the fifth straight tournament (Northeast 2014 and Northeast 2016, regionals in 2014 and 2016, national championship 2014), extended its postseason winning streak to 15 while giving coach Barbara Stevens her 14th regional championship since 1989, her 799th Bentley win and her 956th career victory.
Junior forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy), who added the regional Most Outstanding Player to her ever-growing resume, led the Falcons with 24 points, 11 rebounds and two assists. The D2CCA East Region and Northeast-10 Player of the Year broke Keri Flynn's record for most points by a Falcon in a season and Lauren Battista's mark for most points by a Bentley player during her first three seasons.
It took just over three minutes in the third for Bentley to reduce the NYIT lead from 10 to one, 47-46. Lewis opened the second-half scoring with a three from the left wing. Sophomore guard Trevena Bennett (Union, N.J./Gill-St. Bernard's School) took a charge at the defensive end, Gemma made a lay-up and Lewis followed with another three, this one from straight-away to reduce the Bear lead to 47-46.
After NYIT sophomore guard Nina Vukosavljvic (Belgrade, Serbia) interrupted the Falcons with a three of her own, a long three by Lewis and a lay-up from sophomore guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./ Windward School) gave Bentley its first lead of the night, 51-50.
Those five points began a 14-3 run that made it a 60-53 Falcon lead with 51 seconds left in the third. Finishing the surge was a three-ball from the top of the key by sophomore guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS), Bentley's fifth make in six attempts from downtown in the quarter.
Lewis, who finished with 17 points and six assists, had three triples and four assists in the third quarter alone as she was directly involved in 17 of the team's 27 points.
NYIT opened the fourth by scoring the first four points, including a driving lay-up by Vukosavljevic, and it was a two-point game with 1:16 elapsed, 62-60.
Gemma responded with two free throws and after a second-chance basket by senior forward Dina Ragab (Cairo, Egypt), Lewis drained her fourth triple of the half, this one from the left wing for a 67-62 advantage with 7:25 to play.
The visitors got within two a couple more times before before the Falcons ran off five straight to reclaim a seven-point lead, this time at 75-68 with 1:11 to play.
Bentley uncharacteristically struggled from the line in the final minute, missing four of six at one stretch. That gave NYIT an opportunity to tie the game with a three but Ragab's attempt missed badly with Lewis corralling the rebound. She was sent to the line with 5.5 seconds and locked up the outcome by burying both.
The first half saw Bentley fall behind 12-2 at the start, 26-14 after one and ten at intermission after NYIT scored the final six points. Ragab dominated the half, making 11 of 12 from the floor for 22 points and four offensive rebounds.
Keeping the Falcons within reach during the first 20 minutes were Gemma (16 points) and 12 points from the bench, including five from sophomore forward Cassie Smith (Edison, N.J./Metuchen HS) and four from senior center Melina Kollia (Athens, Greece).
Gemma's 14th double-double gave her 658 points for the season, bettering Flynn's total of 640, and 1,517 for her career, passing Battista's total from her first three years by 13.
Joining Gemma and Lewis in doubles was Green, who matched Lewis' four-for-six effort from three. She finished with 14 points, four assists and three boards. Macchi Smith and Kollia led Bentley off the bench, with eight and six points, respectively.
Ragab and Vukosavljevic, who joined Lewis and Gemma on the All-Tournament Team, accounted for 51 of NYIT's 74 points. Ragab, 14 of 19 overall from the floor, totaled 29 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Vukosavljevic followed with 22 on 7-for-24 shooting, along with five assists.
Bentley outscored the Bears 27-12 from beyond the arc, making 9 of 20 as compared with 4 of 18. Overall, the Falcons shot better, 46-40 percent, but were outrebounded by 17, 47-30. The Falcons, after being plagued by turnovers in their semifinal win over Queens, tied their season-low with only nine giveaways, including only four over the final three stanzas.
Bentley, 28-6 overall, will open Elite Eight play next Tuesday, Mar. 22, at 3:30 pm against 28-2 Virginia Union at the Sanford Pentagon. The Lady Panthers advanced with a 91-77 in oveer West Liberty.