WALTHAM, Mass. – From 1986 to 2009, the Bentley University Falcons and the Saint Anselm College Hawks were paired together 15 times during the Northeast-10 Conference Men's Basketball Championships.
The two programs, each headed by former classmates at the University of New Hampshire (Bentley's Jay Lawson and Saint Anselm's Keith Dickson), haven't seen each other in the conference championships during the last four seasons, but that will change Sunday in Manchester, N.H. when they square off in the 2014 NE-10 quarterfinals. Tip-off at the Stoutenburgh Gym is 3 pm.
Bentley, the fifth seed out of the Northeast Division, will make the trip to Saint Anselm for its second road game in 44 hours with a record of 18-10 after Friday night's opening round win at Saint Rose, 93-79. Saint Anselm, riding an eight-game winning streak and 9-2 on its home court, is 19-6 overall and was the Northeast Division champion.
This will be the rubber game between the two squads with each having won on the other's home court earlier in the season. Bentley rode a career-best 35-point effort from senior guard Jasper Grassa (Lynn/Lynn Classical HS) to a 102-96 road win back on Nov. 13 and Saint Anselm began its current win streak with an 88-79 victory in Waltham Jan. 25.
Bentley and Saint Anselm are two of the three highest scoring teams in the conference and both rely heavily on the three-pointer. The Falcons lead the conference in three-pointers (10.1 a game) and put up 81.7 points per game. The Hawks, who average 87.6 points, don't make quite as many treys (9.3 a game) but shoot slightly better (.484 to .472 overall and .406 to .401 from three).
Each team has a talented sophomore forward at the top of five double-figure scorers. Tyler McFarland (Rockport, Maine/Camden Hills HS) tops the Falcons with averages of 17.9 points and seven rebounds and Saint Anselm is powered by Mike McCahey, at 17.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. McFarland has had an exceptional shooting year, at .536 overall, .489 from three and .878 at the line.
Two of the conference's most prolific three-point shooters will also be on display. Saint Anselm's John Neilsen leads the NE-10 with 93 while Grassa is Bentley's all-time leader with 283. Owner of a 14.4 scoring average, he's third in the NE-10 in triples and is two away from a third straight season with at least 80 three-pointers.
Bentley's list of double-figure scorers also includes a pair of juniors who each established new career scoring highs in Friday's first-round game at Saint Rose. Keegan Hyland (South Portland, Maine/ South Portland HS) scored 18 in the first 12-plus minutes and finished with 25 while Andrew Shaw (Saco, Maine/Thornton Academy) emerged from a scoring slump to put up 24, including a 5-for-8 effort from downtown.
Hyland, up to 12.3 a game overall, has started the last four games for the Falcons and has averaged 20 ppg in that role while shooting 55 percent overall and 47 percent from three. Shaw, with the 24 points, moved his scoring average up to 10.2.
Rounding out the Bentley starting five is sophomore point guard Alex Furness (Wells, Maine/ Wells HS), who helped the Falcons play the final 25 minutes Friday without a turnover. He's made 52 percent of his shots overall, including 46 percent from three, and is averaging 10.1 points with one of the conference's best assist-turnover ratio (2.7).
Off the bench, sophomore forward Shaq Phelps (Linden, N.J./Linden HS) has put up 11 and 12 points in his last two games. During the month of February, he netted almost eight points a game for the Falcons.
Saint Anselm's offensive arsenal also includes juniors Roy Mabrey and Chris Santo, both of whom average over 15 points a game, and senior point guard Dino Mallios. He's the only player in the conference with a better assist-turnover ratio than Furness, and his averages stand at 10.7 points and eight assists.
In the two regular season games between the two, with the exception of Grassa in the first meeting, Bentley hasn't enjoyed a great deal of success in shooting from downtown. Grassa was six of seven in that one, but otherwise, the Falcons have been 11 of 48 outside. Saint Anselm shot 48 percent overall and nearly 40 from three in the two contests, but Bentley doubled the Hawks in free throw attempts (58-29) and was a plus 5.5 on the boards.
Top scorers in the series have been Grassa (25.0) and McFarland (18.0) for Bentley and McCahey (20.0), Santo (19.0) and Mabrey (17.0) for the Hawks.
In the other quarterfinal contests, Le Moyne is at Franklin Pierce, Southern New Hampshire is making the trek to Southern Connecticut and St. Michael's is at New Haven. The Bentley-Saint Anselm winner will be paired against the New Haven-St. Michael's victor in the semis.
Links to live stats and pay-per-view video will be available at www.bentleyfalcons.com.