NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Sophomore forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy) tied her career-high with her third 31-point game of the year and also provided 13 rebounds, three steals and a couple key defensive plays in the final couple minutes as Bentley University won for the third time in four games, 59-54 over Merrimack College in Northeast-10 Conference women's basketball Tuesday evening at Hammel Court.
The turning point in this one was an extended 22-2 run that reversed a 10-point Falcon deficit, making it 57-47 Falcons with 2:13 to play. Fifteen of Gemma's points came during that stretch of more than ten minutes in which the Warriors were just 1 of 12 from the floor with eight turnovers and three missed free throws.
Inside baskets by Gemma and sophomore forward Brittany Gregory (Fishkill, N.Y./John Jay HS) got the comeback started. Both players couldn't convert the three-point play but the two fouls were the ninth and tenth whistled on the Warriors in the half, putting Bentley in the double-bonus with 10:39 to play.
Freshman guard Kristin Brown (Poulsbo, Wash./North Kitsap HS) drove baseline for two, Gemma hit another inside shot and the NE-10 scoring leader followed with a long jumper to even the score at 45 with 9:08 to play.
Two free throws by Gemma put Bentley in front for good, 47-45 with 8:25 to play. Another Gemma make from the line and another Brown lay-up made it 50-45 before a drive to the basket by Warrior senior guard Chloe Rothman (Newton) ended Merrimack's scoring drought at nearly five-and-a-half minutes.
It would be another four minutes before Merrimack scored again and by that juncture, Bentley had pushed the lead to 10, 57-47, with seven unanswered, six of those by Gemma as part of her 19-point second half.
Merrimack, which had overcome a 10-point deficit in the final minute of a game it won at Bentley back in December, fought back with a 7-0 run, ignited by a three from the left wing by senior guard Allison Wagner (Center Conway, N.H.). It could have been bigger if not for two plays by Gemma, a block with 1:27 to play and a drawn offensive foul with 19.1 second and the lead down to three.
Gemma and senior guard Kelsey Mattice (Syracuse, N.Y./Cicero North Syracuse HS) each made one of two free throws in the final 18 seconds to lock up the team's tenth win.
After a run of eight unanswered put Bentley back in front, 25-24, Merrimack ended a closely-contested opening frame (seven lead changes, five ties) with a 7-2 spurt to take a 31-27 lead to the locker room. Sophomore guard Caitlin Garger (Hicksville, N.Y.) ended the Falcon run with a corner three, and after a Gemma basket, lay-ups by senior forward Aria Johnson (Los Osos, Calif.) and junior forward Amanda Hoover (Columbus, Ohio) accounted for the halftime spread.
Bentley's run, which erased a seven-point Warrior lead, included three points apiece from Gemma and junior guard Jane White (Amherst, N.H./Souhegan HS).
Gemma, who finished with three more points than her teammates had in total, made 10 of 22 overall and was 11 of 17 at the line. Gregory and Brown followed, with eight and seven points, respectively.
Johnson led Merrimack with 12 points and junior guard Ashley Weissmann (Highland, Calif.) followed with 10. Rothman, the team's leading scorer for the season, was limited to just six in 12 minutes before fouling out with 3:51 to play.
Bentley, which didn't connect from three, outshot the Warriors, 42-37 percent overall and 48-27 in the second half. Rebounds were even at 35, Merrimack committed two more turnovers (19-17) and the Falcons attempted 15 more free throws, making 21 of 33 as compared with 12 of 18 for the home team.
With the win, Bentley (10-13, 5-12 NE-10) moved to within a half-game of the fifth and final playoff berth out of the Northeast Division, remaining tied with Southern New Hampshire. The Penmen stunned Franklin Pierce on a buzzer-beating three in double-overtime.
Bentley will be back at home Saturday, taking on St. Michael's in a game that CBS Sports Network will broadcast nationally, beginning at noon.