WALTHAM, Mass. – Seven times in the last eight years, the Bentley University women's basketball team has reached the Northeast-10 Conference championship game.
The defending champions will look to make it eight of nine Thursday night when coach Barbara Stevens' Falcons, the number one seed out of the Northeast Division, hosts the third-seeded Saint Anselm Hawks in a 7 pm game at the Dana Center. Fans who can't make it to the game can view the contest on the NE10 NOW Digital Network (www.NE10NOW.tv, www.bentleyfalcons.tv).
Bentley, which moved to 12th in this week's WBCA Division II coaches' poll and remained second to USciences in the NCAA Division II East Rankings, owns a 27-2 record after a wire-to-wire 68-55 win over American International in Sunday's quarterfinal.
The Falcons, who are 28-6 all-time in conference semifinal contests, owns a 14-game winning streak and has won the last seven times it has played in the NE10 semis.
Saint Anselm punched its ticket to the semis with an 85-81 road win at Adelphi. The Hawks, 5-5 in their last ten games, are 19-8 overall with a 10-3 record on the road.
The two clubs met twice during the regular season with Bentley winning both despite being outrebounded by 5.5 a game. The Falcons, who limited the Hawks to two of their four lowest scoring totals of the season, prevailed 60-51 in New Hampshire back in December and 69-54 at home Feb. 16.
While they have had issues with rebounds against the Hawks, the Falcons dominated in that regard against AIC, finishing with their third highest rebound margin of the season, +20. The team's 48 boards included 13 from sophomore guard Katie Meriggioli (Waunakee, Wis./Edgewood HS), who has 49 in her last four games. During that stretch, Bentley has outrebounded its opponents 197-123.
Meriggioli, after scoring 21 against the Yellow Jackets, has reclaimed the team lead in points per game at 11.9. She's averaged 16 in her last four after a quiet stretch for the first half of February.
Senior captains Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy), Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) and Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS) also own double-digit scoring averages and junior forward Monica Viapiano (Holden/Holy Name HS) is only three points away from joining that group.
The three captains, along with Meriggioli, were recognized earlier in the week when the Northeast-10 announced its All-Conference teams. McConnell was tabbed for the second team, Lux was chosen for the third team and both Meriggioli and Lewis were received honorable mention recognition.
Those four generally start for Stevens, the NE10 co-Coach of the Year, along with junior guard Maddy Springfield (Jaffrey, N.H./Conant HS), who averages six points and 5.4 rebounds. She's knocked down 35 three-pointers, is third in assists (59) and is second on the club in defensive rebounds (138).
Saint Anselm, a win away from its first 20-win season in 20 years, is coming off a wild quarterfinal game. The Hawks limited Adelphi to 16 first-half points while building a 23-point lead and held on for the four-point victory after giving up a stunning 44 points in the fourth.
The Hawks, ranked seventh in the East under second-year head coach Corey Boilard, have two All-Conference honorees, including first-teamer Shannon Ryan, a six-foot-four center who had 29 points and 21 rebounds in Sunday's win. For the season, she's averaging 19.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, ranking second in the conference in all three categories. Her 21 double-doubles is the second highest total nationally in Division II.
Sophomore Peyton Steinman was the team's second All-Conference honoree as she was named to the third team after averaging 13.9 points and 6.1 rebounds with a team-best 86 assists and 46 steals. She shoots 41 percent from three and has been outstanding at the line, making 92 of 105 (.876).
Bentley and Saint Anselm are 1-2 in the conference in both scoring margin and rebound margin with both squads among the NE10's top five in both scoring offense and defense. The Falcons have outscored their opponents by 14.6 a game and the Hawks follow at 10.2. The order is reversed in terms of rebound margin with Saint Anselm collecting 9.7 more errant shots than their opponents and Bentley nine more.
They are also the top two in the conference in field goal percentage defense with Saint Anselm holding their opponents to .351 and Bentley right behind at .358.
The two programs have met in the postseason 11 times previous with the Falcons winning nine of those contests, most recently 81-49 in the 2017 NE10 semifinals behind an 18-point effort by Lux.
In the other semifinal, Southwest Division top-seed Le Moyne is hosting New Haven. Should the Dolphins win, they would host Sunday's championship game because they own a win over Bentley and a higher seed than Saint Anselm.
NORTHEAST-10 CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS
First Round Friday, March 1
Game 1: Merrimack (No. 4 seed NE) 75, Southern Connecticut (No. 5 seed SW) 62
Game 2: American International (No. 4 seed SW) 79, Southern New Hampshire (No. 5 seed NE) 55
Quarterfinals Sunday, March 3
Game 3: Le Moyne (No. 1 seed SW) 74, Merrimack (No. 4 seed NE) 63
Game 4: Bentley (No. 1 seed NE) 68, American International (No. 4 seed SW) 55
Game 5: Saint Anselm (No. 3 seed NE) 85, Adelphi (No. 2 seed SW) 81
Game 6: New Haven (No. 3 seed SW) 58, Stonehill (No. 2 seed NE) 52
Semifinals Thursday, March 7 (at highest remaining seeds)
Game 7: Stonehill (No. 2 seed NE) 52 at Le Moyne (No. 1 seed SW) (7:00 PM)
Game 8: Saint Anselm (No. 3 seed NE) at Bentley (No. 1 seed NE) (7:00 PM)
Championship Sunday, March 10 (at highest remaining seed)
Game 9: Game 8 winner vs. Game 7 winner (1:00 PM)