ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The combination of forty minutes of full court pressure, 16 second-chance points and sizzling shooting from three during the second half was too much for the Bentley University Falcons Tuesday afternoon, with the Falcons falling to 33-1 Clayton State University, 84-61, in the opening game of the 2011 NCAA Division II Women's Basketball Elite Eight at the St. Joseph Civic Arena.
The Lakers forced 26 turnovers in the game, including seven in the first seven-plus minutes of the second, a stretch in which the second-ranked Division II team in the national extended a two-point halftime advantage to a commanding 57-36.
"It was 40 minutes of one frustration after another," said Bentley coach Barbara Stevens. "They are quick, athletic and cover a lot of ground. Clayton State is an outstanding team."
Bentley senior guard Kim Brennan (Locust Valley, N.Y./Locust Valley HS), who scored 14 points without missing a shot in her school record-matching 126th career start, said of Clayton's pressure, "It's nothing that we've seen before. We're a transition team, but it slowed us down."
The game got off to a positive start for the 15th-ranked Falcons, with back-to-back three-pointers from sophomore guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop, Mass./Winthrop HS) and freshman post Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg, Mass./Wachusett Reg. HS) giving Bentley a 14-8 lead with 13:42 left in the opening half.
Clayton State, which has forced nearly 30 turns a game over the course of the season, countered with 13 unanswered points. Senior guard Latonda Bruce (Montgomery, Ala.) scored the first five, senior wing Teshymia Tillman (High Point, N.C.) made two lay-ups off fast breaks, and senior forward Breanna Hall (Smyrna, Ga.) also scored four points on lay-ups.
Fast-break lay-ups from junior Tanisha Woodard (Rome, Ga.) and Tillman extended the Clayton advantage to 13, 29-16, but the Falcons weren't done. They outscored the Lakers 13-4 over the last 5:05 of the opening half, pulling to within two at 33-31 at the break.
The comeback began with a Finn lay-up and continued with a Brennan put-back. Freshman forward Lauren Battista (North Easton, Mass./Oliver Ames HS) scored inside, Brennan added four more points, and Brugliera knocked down a triple from the right wing.
"In the first half, we battled to stay in, but expended so much energy," said Stevens. "We needed the rest at the half, but that also slowed our momentum."
Signs of what the second half would be like came in the opening minute after play resumed. Tillman opened the scoring with a three and Bentley would turn the ball over twice in the backcourt, the second leading to a Woodard lay-up, before the Falcons got the ball to their half of the court for the first time.
Clayton isn't known as a great three-point shooting team (33 percent for the season, and only 1-for-10 in the first half), but that wasn't evident during the second half. In fact, the Lakers buried 8-of 10 after intermission with five different players connecting from downtown.
"Everything they shot was going in," said Stevens. "They hit an incredible percentage from three."
Tillman, responsible for four of Clayton's second-half triples, led the Lakers with 22 points. Woodard, who had seven steals and two blocks, and Fort each followed with 14, and sophomore guard Drameka Griggs (Ellenwood, Ga.) provided 13 points and seven assists off the bench.
Brennan, who concluded her outstanding career with 1,695 points, made all six of her field goal attempts and also gave the Falcons six assists. Finn, who knocked down three of four from outside the arc, paced the Falcons with 15 points and five rebounds, and Brugliera concluded her standout rookie year with 12 points and two blocks. Battista also scored in doubles, finishing with 10 points and a team-best seven rebounds.
Both teams shot well overall (Bentley 50 percent, Clayton 48 percent), but the 26 Falcon turnovers and the Lakers' success on the offensive boards resulted in 23 more field goal attempts.
While the game didn't go as desired, the season was anything but a disappointment for Bentley, which finished at 28-5.
"It's been our goal to be here and win the national championship," said Brennan. "But this wasn't a disappointment. I'm proud of the season we had, it's been a fun trip and a fun ride, and I'm glad we got to experience it."
Brugliera, who had one of the premier freshman seasons in Bentley history, said "coming here has made me hungrier for next year."
Stevens, who had her team back at the Elite Eight for the first time in eight years, also looked forward to the future with optimism following a season in which she started three first-year players for much of the year. "I'm glad they got to experience the Elite Eight and see what kind of talent is out here."
Brennan is the only one of the team's top nine players who won't be back last season and Stevens also pointed out that Bentley was without three injured players, all of whom are potential starters next year. Sophomore forward Caleigh Crowell (Harwich, Mass./Worcester Academy) missed the entire season with a foot injury, senior forward Elise Caira (Wakefield, Mass./Arlington Catholic HS) was los to a knee injury on Dec. 30, and freshman point guard Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./ Central HS) suffered a season-ending knee injury in the NCAA regional tournament.
Clayton State coach Dennis Cox praised the Falcons and Stevens in his postgame presser. "I've been watching them all week and they are a great team. Their coach is the best in the country, and to be in the game on the opposite bench as her is an honor."
Clayton State will face either Metro State (Colo.) or Shaw (N.C.) in Wednesday's semifinals.
At St. Joseph, Mo. (Civic Arena)
CLAYTON STATE 84, BENTLEY 61
CLAYTON STATE (33-1) -- Teshymia Tillman 9-17 0-0 22; Tanisha Woodard 5-15 2-2 14; Breanna Fort 5-10 4-4 14; Drameka Griggs 6-9 0-0 13; Shacamra Jackson 3-5 2-2 9; Latonda Bruce 3-5 0-0 7; Alexis Griffin 1-2 0-0 2; Brittany Hall 1-4 0-0 2; Kayla Mobley 0-1 1-2 1; Timethia Bennett 0-0 0-0 0; Renee Jackson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 33-69 9-10 84.
BENTLEY (28-5) -- Courtney Finn 5-7 2-2 15; Kim Brennan 6-6 2-2 14; Jacqui Brugliera 4-11 2-4 12; Lauren Battista 5-9 0-0 10; Katherine Goodwin 2-7 0-0 5; Shatasia Kearse 1-3 1-4 3; Lauren Massie 0-0 2-2 2; Caralyn Hart 0-0 0-0 0; Kelsey Roberson 0-1 0-0 0; Ashley Saia 0-0 0-0 0; Meghan Thomann 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 23-46 9-14 61.
Halftime: CS 33-31; 3-point goals--C 9-20 (Tillman 4-6; Woodard 2-4; Griggs 1-2; Bruce 1-3; Jackson 1-1; Hall 0-2; Griffin 0-1; Fort 0-1), B 6-12 (Finn 3-4; Brugliera 2-4; Goodwin 1-2; Roberson 0-1; Thomann 0-1). Fouled out-- None. Rebounds--C 32 (Fort 6), B 29 (Battista 7). Assists--C 22 (Griggs 7), B 13 (Brennan 6). Total fouls--C 18, B 9. Technical fouls--None.