WALTHAM, Mass. – Bentley University's 49th season of men's basketball will get underway this weekend with the Falcons hosting Bloomfield College, Felician College and Merrimack College in a Tip-Off Classic at the Dana Center.
Action will get underway Friday evening with Merrimack facing defending NCAA Division II East Region champion Bloomfield at 6 pm and Bentley taking on Felician in the 8 pm nightcap. On Saturday, the two Northeast-10 teams will switch opponents with Merrimack playing Felician at 6 and in the 8 pm finale, Bentley will meet Bloomfield in a rematch of the NCAA East Regional final last March.
The Bentley team that takes to the court this weekend will be significantly different from the one that saw its bid for a fourth Elite Eight trip in five years denied by Bloomfield last March, 75-71. That was the second time last season that the Deacons took down Bentley in the Dana Center as they also prevailed by two, 86-84, in this tournament.
Gone from that club are four starters, three of whom who scored over 1,000 points while wearing a Falcon uniform.
The lone returning starter is senior guard Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/Winthrop HS), who started along with senior forward Kevin Kettl (Hershey, Pa./Hershey HS), juniors Greg Jacques (Brockton/St. Sebastian's HS) and Dan O'Keefe (Lexington/Lexington HS), and sophomore guard Jasper Grassa (Lynn/Lynn Classical HS) in last Sunday's exhibition against Bishop's University (Canada), a contest the Falcons won 101-74.
All four were part of coach Jay Lawson's rotation a year ago, with Leclerc the top returning starter (7.8 ppg). Jacques and O'Keefe followed at 6.6 and 6.3, respectively, and Grassa knocked down 43 triples en route to 5.9 ppg. Kettl has given the Falcons better than 11 minutes a game while playing in all but one game over the last two seasons.
Seeing the most action off the bench against Bishop's were junior guard Mike Topercer (Scottsdale, Ariz./New Hampton Prep) and a trio of promising freshmen: Andrew Shaw (Saco, Maine/Thornton Academy), Jate Cheshul (Galloway, N.J./Holy Spirit HS) and J.P. Koury (Red Bank, N.J./CBA).
Bentley and Felician share a common nickname, with Felician's Falcons modified by Golden, but the two programs have never met on the basketball court. The Golden Falcons, who are out of Rutherford, N.J., were 14-13 overall last year, but lost their top six scorers, in terms to total points, to graduation.
Junior guard Anthony D. Green, who averaged 14.6 minutes last season, is Felician's top returning scorer at 4.2 ppg. Coach David DeFerrari gets back junior guard Anthony Obery, who saw his 2010-11 season end after two productive games (14 ppg, 13-21 from the floor), and has bolstered his roster with eight new players, including four transfers. Included is six-foot-six senior John Tello, who averaged 10 points and 4.9 rebounds in two seasons at Saint Anselm (2008-10).
Bloomfield lost three of last year's top seven, including the nation's number four scorer in guard Gage Daye (24.1 ppg). With an 11.8 average a year ago, senior forward Matt Wafula is the top returning scorer for a Deacon squad that ran its way to 87 points a game and its first-ever appearance in the Elite Eight.
Senior guard Ahmad Harris is coming off a productive season, one that saw him average 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in addition to 7.3 points, and six-foot-seven sophomore Kevin Udo is a force inside.
The Tip-Off Tournament is the start of a four-game homestand for the Falcons, which also includes encounters with UMass-Lowell Wednesday in the Northeast-10 opener and Bridgeport next Saturday afternoon.