WALTHAM, Mass. -- After reaching the final with a pair come-from-behind wins, the Bentley University men's basketball team will be seeking its third Northeast-10 Conference playoff title in five years when it hosts Adelphi University Saturday afternoon. Tip-off for the conference's 31st championship game is set for 1 pm.
Three tournament championships in five years isn't easy in a conference as competitive as the Northeast-10. In fact, the only time a team has won it three times in a span of five or less years was during the first half of the 90's when Saint Anselm earned the title in 1993, 1995 and 1996.
Bentley, making its eighth appearance in the final, has won it all three times before, in 2002, 2007 and 2008. Adelphi is making a return trip to the title game after falling to UMass-Lowell last winter in its first year as a conference member.
Bentley, the number one seed after winning the regular season championship for the sixth time in seven years, needed second half comebacks in its first two playoff games.
In the quarters on Monday, a 37-15 run over the final 16:20 turned a nine-point deficit into a 67-54 victory. Three nights later, the Falcons used a similar spurt, 37-19 over the final 17:20, to climb out of a 10-point hole en route to a 68-60 win.
Adelphi, the seventh seed, has reached the final by besting number ten Southern Connecticut State (79-70), second-seeded American International (55-52) and defending champion UMass-Lowell (71-60), the sixth seed. In two NE-10 seasons, the Panthers are 6-1 in conference playoff games.
The Falcons and Panthers met once in the regular season with Bentley using a game-ending 20-7 run to prevail by 10, 64-54, down on Long Island in mid-January. Coach Jay Lawson's club blanked Adelphi over the last two minutes while scoring the game's final nine points.
Both teams shot in the mid-thirties, with Bentley heating up in the second half (.462) after hitting just 24 percent before the break. Top scorers were senior guard Tom Dowling (Rockville Centre, N.Y./South Side HS) with 18 for the Falcons and David Akinyooye with 21 (on 8-11 shooting) for AU.
Bentley, ranked number one in the NCAA East Region and a virtual lock to host next weekend's regional tournament, will bring a 22-6 record into Saturday's game after winning its last six.
Senior forward Brian Tracey (Bow Mar, Colo./Heritage HS) and Dowling have been the team's top scorers for the season, and that's carried over into the conference tourney. Tracey has posted back-to-back double-doubles, giving him a total of seven in his postseason career, and is averaging 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds. Dowling follows with a 13.0 average in the first two playoff games.
For the season, Tracey tops the Falcons with averages of 17.2 points and 7.6 rebounds. He's moved within 23 points of becoming just the 12th player in the program's history to amass 1,500 career, and he's within four of becoming the first Falcon in 15 years to have 800 career rebounds. Only three players in Bentley annals have reached both of those milestones: Al Grenfell, Todd Orlando and J.D. Asselta.
Dowling has had a strong second half to the season to boost his scoring average to 11.0. He's exceeded that number in six of his last seven games.
Saturday should mark the 130th career start for grad student Mike Quinn (Oakdale, Conn./ Montville HS) in the Falcon backcourt, which would match the school record set by 2010 grad Jason Westrol. He leads the team in steals (54) and threes (48) while averaging 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds.
Senior forward Joe Fremeau (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) and junior guard Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/Winthrop HS) round out the starting five for Lawson. Fremeau has averaged 5.7 points and 5.1 rebounds in his last seven games, and Leclerc provides 7.6 points a game.
Adelphi, which probably needs to win on Saturday to earn an NCAA tournament berth after being absent from the latest regional rankings, started the season at 9-3, dropped five of seven to finish January and has been 8-2 since the first of February. The recent hot spell has brought the Panthers to 19-10, a win shy of reaching the 20-win mark for the fifth time in six years.
The Panthers feature a pair of seniors who earned All-Conference honors, guard Richard Byrd and six-foot-six David Akinyooye. Byrd, ninth in the NE-10 in scoring at 16.5 and number one in free throw accuracy (.909), was chosen for the second team, and Akinyooye was a third-team honoree. He averages 13.1 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Byrd recently became Adelphi's all-time leading scorer and is currently 29 away from the 2,000 plateau.
Guards Chris Ranglin and Rob Johnson also sport double-digit scoring average for Adelphi, each averaging 11 a game.