NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Freshman guard Jasper Grassa (Lynn/Lynn Classical HS) came off the bench to net a career-best 16 points and senior guard Tom Dowling (Rockville Centre, N.Y./South Side HS) became the 47th 1,000-point scorer in the program's history as Bentley University rolled to a 68-44 win over Merrimack College in Northeast-10 Conference men's basketball Thursday night at the Volpe Center.
Bentley, the top-ranked team in the NCAA Division II East Region, ran its record to 16-4 overall (14=2 NE-10) and remained two games in front of both Stonehill and American International in the battle for the regular season conference championship. Saint Anselm, which began the night tied with those teams for second, dropped three games off the pace with a 65-54 loss at Southern New Hampshire.
It was the second time this season that Bentley has shut down the Merrimack offense. The Warriors, who have averaged 79.5 in their other games this season, have been limited to a total of just 91 points in two contests against the Falcons.
The Falcons, who grabbed an early 19-9 lead following a 16-3 spurt, broke the game open during a 13 minute span surrounding intermission. A 26-5 explosion that included a seven-minute stretch that the Warriors went scoreless extended an eight-point lead to a commanding 29, 55-26.
The 16-3 run included a trio of Bentley triples, with grad student Mike Quinn (Oakdale, Conn./ Montville HS), Grassa and junior guard Greg Jacques (Brockton/St. Sebastian's HS) all connecting from downtown. In addition, senior forward Joe Fremeau (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) converted a three-point play and Dowling had a pair of baskets.
With the lead at eight, Bentley closed out the first half with a 10-2 spurt to make it a 39-23 lead. Sophomore forward Dan O'Keefe (Lexington/Lexington HS) accounted for the first six points and the Falcon defense blanked the Warriors over the final 3:10 of the stanza.
Merrimack's dry spell reached seven minutes and 25 seconds, by which time Bentley had the scored the second half's first nine points. That spurt featured two lay-ups by Jacques in the matter of seconds with a steal of the inbound pass sandwiched in between.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Grassa and junior guard Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/Winthrop HS) gave Bentley its biggest lead of the night, 63-31, with 3:25 left.
Grassa was the only double-figure scorer for the Falcons. He was six-of-nine from the floor with four three-pointers, and also had a pair of steals.
Dowling finished with nine points, exactly what he needed to reach 1,000. The milestone points came with 12:58 left in the game, on a fall-away 10-footer in the lane.
Jacques also had nine points, and both Leclerc and senior forward Brian Tracey (Bow Mar, Colo./Heritage HS) followed with eight. The eight pushed Tracey's career total to 1,350, elevating him from a tie for 24th to 23rd on Bentley's all-time scoring list.
Merrimack senior guard Darin Mency (Hagerstown, Md.), the number two scorer in the NE-10 with a 22.2 average, was limited to 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. Junior guard Wayne Mack (Paterson, N.J.) also had a tough night as he was held to seven points, less than half his season-norm, on 3-of-12 from the floor. Mency's ten was tied for the team-lead with sophomore forward Tyler Young (Brooklyn, N.Y.).
Bentley shot 44 percent overall, including a 10-for-24 effort from three-point land, while Merrimack, the number six ranked team in the region this week, was under 30 percent most of the night. The Warriors (10-9, 6-9 NE-10) finished at 32 percent and were only two of 17 from outside the arc.
Bentley controlled the boards, 44-38, with junior Kevin Kettl (Hershey, Pa./Hershey HS) finishing with a team-high seven, and had a 7-4 edge in steals. There were only 11 fouls whistled in the game, with just five on the Falcons, and only nine free throws.
Bentley will look for its fourth straight win Saturday when it hosts St. Michael's at 3:30 pm.
At North Andover, Mass. (Volpe Gym)
BENTLEY 68, MERRIMACK 44
BENTLEY (16-4, 14-2 NE10) -- Jasper Grassa 6-9 0-0 16; Tom Dowling 4-11 0-0 9; Greg Jacques 4-7 0-0 9; Brian Tracey 3-9 1-2 8; Sam Leclerc 3-5 0-0 8; Mike Quinn 3-9 0-0 7; Dan O'Keefe 3-8 0-0 6; Joe Fremeau 1-4 1-1 3; Kevin Kettl 1-2 0-0 2; Mike Topercer 0-0 0-0 0; Mikerson Laurent 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-64 2-3 68.
MERRIMACK (10-9, 6-9 NE10) -- Darin Mency 4-16 1-2 10; Tyler Young 5-11 0-0 10; Aaron Strothers 3-7 2-2 8; Wayne Mack 3-12 0-0 7; Kevin Regan 2-7 0-0 4; Juan Carlos Rosich 1-3 1-2 3; Adam Marshall 1-3 0-0 2; Wilfredo Pagan 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-60 4-6 44.
Halftime: B 39-23; 3-point goals--B 10-24 (Grassa 4-6; Leclerc 2-4; Tracey 1-3; Jacques 1-2; Quinn 1-6; Dowling 1-3), M 2-17 (Mency 1-7; Mack 1-6; Regan 0-2; Marshall 0-2). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--B 44 (Kettl 7), M 38 (Young 11). Assists--B 10 (Jacques 3), M 11 (Mack 5). Total fouls--B 5, M 6. Technical fouls--None.