WALTHAM, Mass. -- Throughout the regular season, Bentley University had the most successful men's basketball team in the Northeast-10 as the Falcons won their sixth conference title in seven years by two games.
Over the last month, the College of Saint Rose has been the hottest team with Monday's 92-82 quarterfinal playoff win over Saint Anselm College extending the Golden Knights' winning streak to eight.
Something will have to give when the two clubs meet at Bentley's Dana Center Thursday night in the semifinals of the NE-10 conference tournament, with a berth and home court advantage for Saturday's NE-10 championship game awaiting the winner. Tip-off for the semifinal matchup is slated for 7 pm.
Top-seeded Bentley, which advanced with a 67-54 win over St. Michael's, and fourth-seeded Saint Rose are the highest two seeds remaining in the tournament.
Number two American International was bounced by seventh-seeded Adelphi University, and number three Stonehill fell victim to sixth-seeded UMass-Lowell. Those two winning teams will meet at Lowell in the other semifinal in a rematch of the 2010 championship game.
Bentley and Saint Rose have met in the conference playoffs just once before with the Falcons prevailing 71-61 in the 2007 championship game.
The Falcons also took the lone regular season meeting of the two squads, winning at Saint Rose in late January by a count of 83-60. Bentley used a strong effort from the bench (43 points) and an outstanding defensive effort (17 first-half points) to hand the Golden Knights one of only two home losses they suffered all season.
Bentley, looking for its eighth trip to the conference championship game, enters the semis with a 21-6 record, the number one ranking in the NCAA East Region and a number 22 ranking nationally in Division II. Coach Jay Lawson's club has won its last five, a stretch in which it has limited the opponents to 59.8 points and only 8.6 free throw attempts per game.
The Falcons opened the playoffs with a 67-54 win over St. Michael's. Down nine with 16:20 left, Bentley closed the game with a 37-15 blitzing, a stretch in which they held the Purple Knights to just 7 of 22 shooting overall, including 1 of 10 from three. Senior forward Brian Tracey (Bow Mar, Colo./Heritage HS) paced Lawson's team with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Tracey, five points away from moving into 13th on Bentley's all-time scoring list, tops the 2010-11 Falcons with averages of 17.2 points and 7.7 rebounds. Senior guard Tom Dowling (Rockville Centre, N.Y./South Side HS) is the team's other double-figure scorer with averages of 10.9 overall and 13.5 over the last 15 games.
Those two are joined in the starting unit by grad student Mike Quinn (Oakdale, Conn./Montville HS), senior forward Joe Fremeau (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) and junior guard Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/Winthrop HS). Quinn, Bentley's all-time leader in minutes played, leads the Falcons in threes (45) and steals (51), and is averaging 8.7 points and 5.1 boards. Leclerc provides 7.7 points a game and Fremeau is third on the club in rebounds.
Bentley's bench brigade features junior guard Greg Jacques (Brockton/St. Sebastian's HS), sophomore forward Dan O'Keefe (Lexington/Lexington HS) and freshman guard Jasper Grassa (Lynn/ Lynn Classical HS). They combine to give the Falcons nearly 20 points a game.
While Bentley has been one of the conference's top defensive clubs (13 teams have been held in the 50's), Saint Rose likes to put points on the board with its 78.4 average best in the NE-10. The Golden Knights (21-7 overall) have put up at least 80 15 times, including each of the last four games, and have taken a conference-high 664 free throws.
In their quarterfinal win, the Golden Knights shot 60 percent overall with the junior trio of Brian Hanuschak, Shea Bromirski and Rob Gutierrez combining for 60 points. Hanuschak played a major role in the team's lofty field goal percentage as he made 10 of 11 himself.
Gutierrez, a first-team All-Conference guard, leads the team in scoring at 18.6 ppg. Bromirski follows at 15.9, with a sizzling .881 accuracy mark from the line and 72 three-pointers, and Hanuschak gives veteran coach Brian Beaury 11.3 points and 8.6 rebounds a game.
Sophomore guard Andre Pope, who has drained 62 triples, is the team's other double-figure scorer as he averages just under 13. Combined, that quartet accounts for 73 percent of the team's scoring.
The conference championship game will be at 1 pm Saturday with the winner receiving an automatic berth to the NCAA East Regional.