WALTHAM, Mass. – The two winningest women's basketball teams in the Northeast-10 Conference, the Bentley University Falcons and the Le Moyne College Falcons, will square off Sunday afternoon in the Northeast-10 Conference championship game with the defending champion Falcons seeking their record 21st title and the Dolphins their first.
The 1:00 pm game from the Ted Grant Court in Syracuse, N.Y. will tip off at 1 pm and can be seen on the NE10 Digital Network.
Bentley, the top seed from the Northeast Division, will head into its 29th championship game with a 28-2 record, a number 12 ranking in Division II and a 15-game winning streak that began immediately following a 58-40 home loss to Le Moyne two months ago.
The Falcons have advanced to the finals for the fourth straight year and eighth time in the last nine seasons following double-digit victories over American International (68-55) and Saint Anselm College (74-59).
Le Moyne, after splitting its final six regular season games, has reached the championship game for the first time in 17 years by defeating Merrimack College (74-63) and the University of New Haven (42-28).
Those two wins have given the Dolphins a 23-5 record, including 14-1 on their home court. The lone blemish came a month ago when they were held to a season-low 42 points in a 30-point loss to AIC, a game in which they shot only .275 and made only 3 of 14 from deep.
The two coaches, Bentley's Barbara Stevens and Le Moyne's Gina Castelli, shared the conference's Coach of the Year award after each led their team to the first place in their respective division. Their teams rank 1-2 in the NE10 in scoring margin (Falcons +14.6, Dolphins (+10.0) and both are among the conference's stingiest defensively. Le Moyne gives up 55 a game and Bentley has allowed 55.7 during the current win streak. Bentley has been the higher scoring team for the year, 72.2 to 65.0.
Rebounding could be a key as Bentley has been the best in the NE10 in defensive rebound percentage, collecting 76 percent of the missed shots, and Le Moyne is number one in offensive rebound percentage at 37 percent. The Falcons, who have outrebounded their last five opponents by 17.6 a game, are second in total rebounds at 42.6, and the Dolphins give up the fewest, at 31.1 a game.
Stevens, a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, doesn't have a player among the top 24 scorers in the conference but will go into Sunday with five averaging in doubles. Senior center Victoria Luz (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy), a third-team All-Conference pick, tops the list at 11.8 points and is the number four rebounder in program history with 931.
Sophomore guard Katie Meriggioli (Waunakee, Wis./Edgewood HS), with averages of 11.6 points and 7.0 rebounds, is second on the team in both categories. Also averaging in doubles are senior and second team All-Conference guard Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS), junior forward Monica Viapiano (Holden/Holy Name HS) and senior guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England).
Viapiano was outstanding in the semifinal win, with a career-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and Lewis, who missed the previous Le Moyne game, is 13-2 in postseason action during her career, including 8-0 NE10. Bentley is undefeated this season when she's been on the court, a perfect 20-0. McConnell is in the conference's top five in three-point accuracy, assists and minutes.
Le Moyne features five-foot-four junior McKayla Roberts, a first-team All-Northeast-10 honoree who shoots .431 from three. She leads the NE10 in three-point shooting (.426) and free throw percentage (.938) and is also second in assists (5.8), third in threes made (81) and the conference's top scoring guard (17.5).
While Bentley was without Lewis in the previous meeting, Le Moyne has been without freshman guard Cameron Tooley since early February. She started the season's first 21 games and was averaging eight points. The Dolphins averaged 67.5 points with her but only 59 a game since.
The other double-figure scorer for Castelli's team is six-one grad student Corinne Poitevin, who averages 11.5 points and 8.8 rebounds.
In the previous meeting, a game that saw the Falcons score their fewest points since 2008 and shoot only 22 percent, Le Moyne built a 49-27 lead through three. Top scorers were Roberts with 13 and Meriggioli with 12.
Despite that blemish, Bentley is 30-4 all-time in the series and has prevailed in its last ten visits to Le Moyne.
Bentley will be looking to become the first repeat champion since the Falcons captured four straight from 2011-14. Le Moyne, in its only previous final appearance, fell to AIC in 2002, 65-50.