WALTHAM, Mass. – The Bentley University men's basketball team will continue its bid for a seventh Northeast-10 Conference regular season championship in eight years Saturday afternoon when the Falcons host Saint Anselm College. Tip off at the Dana Center is at 3:30 pm, following the 1:30 pm women's game.
Bentley, after Tuesday's 81-78 win over Merrimack, finds itself in a four-way tie for second place with the Falcons and three teams still remaining on the schedule (Franklin Pierce, UMass-Lowell and Stonehill) all a game-back of first-place Adelphi. None of the top five are playing each other on Saturday.
The reason that coach Jay Lawson's team is beginning February within reach of the top of the 16-team conference is the team's ability to play from behind. The Merrimack game a few days ago marked the fourth time that Bentley has posted a victory after trailing by 14 points or more.
Back in December, the Falcons came from 18 down to win at Stonehill in double overtime, 73-66. January began and ended with two big comeback wins at home (down 16 against Assumption and down 17 against Merrimack) and also included a 61-58 victory at American International after Bentley was down by 14.
Senior guard Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/Winthrop HS), one of three Falcons who has connected at least 50 times from outside the three-point line, has had the hot hand of late, with 53 points in his last two games. During that stretch, which has included a career-high 30 against Southern Connecticut State and 23 in the Merrimack game, he's dropped in 10 of 15 attempts from downtown and has also nailed 15 of 16 free throws.
Junior forward Andrew Shaw (Saco, Maine/Thornton Academy), whose 11.4 scoring average ranks third among non-starters in the NE-10, has hit 18 of 32 from downtown over the last four games to elevate his season accuracy to .481. Over that stretch, he's averaged 16.5 points.
While those two have been the hottest from outside, no Falcon has more threes this season than sophomore guard Jasper Grassa (Lynn/Lynn Classical). He's had three in each of the last three games, and his 58 for the season ranks second in the NE-10.
Freshman guard J.P. Koury (Red Bank, N.J./CBA) doesn't fire from outside as much as those three, but after a slow start, has found the range. He's made nine of 15 (.600) over the last six games, a stretch in which he's averaged close to seven points off the bench.
All told, Bentley averages 10.5 threes a game, a production level that is the third highest in Division II, and has an accuracy mark of .385, best by a Bentley team in 16 years. Over the last three games, 43 of the Falcons' 71 field goals have been from outside.
Saint Anselm will come into the Dana Center looking to move closer to .500 and to stay in the playoff hunt. Coming off a 77-63 win over crosstown rival Southern New Hampshire, the Hawks are 9-11 overall and 7-9 in the NE-10. They got off to a rough start (2-8 before New Year's), but won seven of ten in January, including five straight to start the month.
The top scorer for Saint Anselm is a former teammate of Koury's in high school, freshman guard Roy Mabrey. He's been one of four constants in coach Keith Dickson's lineup, averaging 14.5 points while shooting 43 percent from three and 80 percent from the line.
Also averaging in doubles for the Hawks is six-foot-six senior Jack Keough and sophomore forward Allen Harris. Keough produces 12.6 points a game and is one of the conference's best in getting to the foul line (5.2 a game), and Harris is currently at 11.2, down about six from his NE-10 Freshman of the Year season of a year ago.
Bentley will be looking to complete the season sweep of Saint Anselm after squeaking out a 65-64 win up in Manchester about two months ago. Down nine with under seven minutes on the clock, the Hawks misfired three times in the final 14 seconds after drawing within one.
Saturday's game will end a three-game homestand for the Falcons. Next week, they'll visit St. Michael's Wednesday and Southern New Hampshire Saturday.