WALTHAM, Mass. – Senior guard Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/Winthrop HS), with 23 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman forward Andrew Shaw (Saco, Maine/Thornton Academy), with 18 points off the bench, combined to lead Bentley University to an 81-78 win over Merrimack College in Northeast-10 Conference men's basketball action Tuesday night at the Dana Center.
Bentley, which trailed 23-6 a little more than eight minutes into the game, improved to 14-5 overall and 10-5 in the NE-10, remaining a game out of first place. It was the fourth time this season that the Falcons have overcome a deficit of at least 14 points to post a victory.
After the horrendous start (2 for 15 shooting, 5 turnovers), Bentley used the three-ball to get back into the game. By the time the night was over, the Falcons had connected 14 times from outside the arc, the third straight game they've had at least that many trifectas.
Following a lay-up by junior guard Greg Jacques (Brockton/St. Sebastian's HS), Shaw and junior Jasper Grassa (Lynn/Lynn Classical HS) made it an 8-0 run and reduced Merrimack's lead to single figures, 23-14.
Later in the half, Bentley embarked on a 14-4 spurt that brought the Falcons to within one, 36-35, and eventually went into the locker room at the break down a pair, 41-39. That run featured five points from Shaw and a top-of-the-key three-pointer from junior guard Mike Topercer (Scottsdale, Ariz./New Hampton Prep), who finished with a career-high 12 points.
After Merrimack senior guard Wayne Mack (Paterson, N.J.) opened the second half with a shot clock-beating three-pointer, Bentley answered with three straight treys, all from the left wing. Leclerc hit the first, Shaw the second to give the Falcons their first lead (45-44) and Grassa nailed the third.
Following a Mack triple with 13:53 left that put the Warriors (10-10, 7-9 NE-10) back on top, 52-51, Bentley ran off 10 in a row to open up a 61-52 lead with 11:13 left. Senior forward Kevin Kettl (Hershey, Pa./Hershey HS) scored inside to give the advantage back to Bentley and Leclerc had the next eight points, including two more baskets from downtown.
Bentley's lead peaked at 11, 73-62, on a Shaw three-ball with 5:19 left, but the Warriors battled back, using a 10-2 spurt to close to within three, 75-72 with 2:19 remaining.
A 10-foot floater by freshman J.P. Koury (Red Bank, N.J./CBA) with 1:49 left and a Topercer tip-in with 28 seconds both extended the Falcon lead to five. Following the latter basket, Mack hit a pair of free throws with 16.6 seconds left and after a Bentley turnover on the ensuing inbound play, two more with 9.3 seconds to make it a one-point game, 79-78.
Following a Merrimack timeout, Topercer got past the Warrior defenders and took the long inbound pass from Kettl in for an uncontested lay-up with 6.7 seconds left. Mack attempted a three-pointer at the buzzer, but his try was short and the Falcons escaped with the win.
Leclerc, who was coming off a career-high 30 points in Saturday's win against Southern Connecticut, shot 7 of 14 overall, with a five-of-eight effort from three. Shaw's night included four triples in nine attempts, and Grassa nailed a trio of threes en route to 12 points. Topercer made five of seven from the floor, with a pair of trifectas.
Mack led all scorers with 25 points and six-foot-seven forward Mike Clifford (Danvers) added 19 points and eight boards for Merrimack, which has now dropped 17 in a row to the Falcons.
Bentley overcame the cold shooting to finish at 49 percent, and connected on 42 percent from three-point land (14-33). Merrimack (46 percent) had four more field goals, but eight fewer three-pointers. The Falcons also had the edge in free throws, 11-8.
Bentley will conclude the three-game homestand Tuesday against Saint Anselm (3:30 pm).