The Bentley University men’s basketball program has been a model of consistency over the last quarter century and much of this can be attributed to the leadership of head coach Jay Lawson. At a time when the Northeast-10 Conference has grown into the nation’s deepest and most competitive league, Lawson and his staff have provided the teams with exceptional continuity and direction.
Under his guidance, the Falcons have achieved winning records in 23 of 25 seasons (including 17 straight from 1996-2012) and have an overall record of 494-245 (.669). The .668 winning percentage is number one in Northeast-10 history and since the 2000-01 season, Bentley has a sparkling .706 winning percentage in regular season conference games.
From 2005-12, Bentley averaged 26 wins per season with Division II’s third highest winning percentage (.803) over that span. The Falcons have won seven of the last 12 Northeast-10 regular season championships (including an unprecedented five straight from 2005-09 and a Northeast Division title last year), have reached the NCAA Division II Sweet Sixteen six times since 2005 and have competed in three Elite Eights since 2007.
Included during that time frame were the two best seasons in the program’s, and the conference’s, history. From 2006-08, Bentley posted a combined 66-2 record, made the first two Elite Eight trips in the program’s history, twice extended the record for longest winning streak in New England annals, and broke a 63-year-old Division II national record for longest regular season winning streak, finishing the 2007-08 season with 54 straight.
The phenomenal two-year stretch began during the 2006-07 season when the Falcons won their first 32 games before losing in the Elite Eight to reigning national champion Winona State, which was also undefeated at the time. The Bentley win streak broke the New England record of 29, set by a Bob Cousy-led Holy Cross team 57 years earlier. Other special achievements included the NE-10 regular season and playoff championships as well as the program’s first NCAA Division II Northeast Regional title. Bentley also became the first NE-10 team to achieve a 22-0 conference record and spent the final five weeks of the season ranked #2 nationally.
What happened the next season was even more amazing. The 2007-08 Falcons actually improved on the incredible achievements from the previous year! This time they won their first 34 games en route to the Elite Eight and along the way again won the NE-10 regular season championship, the conference playoffs and a second consecutive Northeast Regional crown.
Bentley spent the entire 2007-08 season ranked #1 in the national poll and finished the season again with a just a single loss to eventual champion Winona State (this time in the national semifinal game). The Falcons finished the campaign with a string of 54 straight wins over conference opponents, a remarkable feat given the competitiveness of the NE-10.
Bentley turned in another championship season in 2008-09, finishing at an impressive 26-7 while extending its string of Northeast-10 regular season titles to an amazing five, winning the conference by two games over UMass-Lowell. Lawson’s club reached the NCAA Division II regional championship game for the fourth time in five years.
Before ending in November 2008, the Falcons’ NCAA Division II record regular season winning streak reached 55, matching the string of 55 consecutive W’s against conference foes.
The most recent Elite Eight appearance came in March 2010 when Bentley reached the national semifinals for the second time in three years, capping a second straight 26-7 season.
Bentley’s list of accomplishments under Lawson has also included the first 30-win season in the program’s storied history (30-6 in 2004-05), a number one ranking in Division II that same season and the sixth Northeast-10 regular season title in seven years in 2012.
Success for Bentley under Lawson began in his first season. The Falcons achieved a 17-10 record during the 1991-92 campaign, a turnaround of seven games from the year before.
Bentley returned to NCAA Division II tournament action in 1993 when it captured the Northeast-10 regular season championship and was ranked 11th in the final national rankings.
Three years later, in 1995-96, Lawson’s Falcons began the current string of 16 consecutive winning seasons. The 2002 team earned an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament after emerging from the fourth seed to win the NE-10 playoff championship.
Lawson, the winningest and longest-tenured coach in the program’s history, also ranks high amongst the top Division II coaches nationally in both winning percentage and victories. Among active Division II coaches with at least 20 years of experience, he has the sixth highest career winning percentage. He is the only man who has been named the Northeast-10 Coach of the Year and the NABC Division II Northeast Region Coach of the Year more than four times, winning the conference award six times (1993, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2016) and the regional honor on five occasions (1993, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008). He was the Division II Bulletin National Coach of the Year in 2005, and the Basketball Times co-Division II Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2008. He has also been cited by the New England Basketball Coaches Association (1993, 2004) and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame (2004).
Recruiting and developing good players (and coaches) is an important part of any successful program. During his 31 years at Bentley (he was an assistant for six years before taking the helm in September 1991), Lawson has coached 42 of the program’s top 66 scorers, and 33 All-Northeast-10 honorees. Two of his former top assistants (Jim Ferry and Jack Perri) both left Bentley for head coaching positions and earned Coach of the Year awards their first season in charge. Ferry is in his third year as head coach at Duquesne after leading LIU Brooklyn to NCAA berths in 2011 and 2012, and Perri succeeded his former boss with the Blackbirds, helping LIU reach the NCAA tournament in March 2014.
Prior to coming to Bentley, Lawson spent coaching stints at Fairfield University (assistant in 1991), Dartmouth College (assistant in 1984-85), Lexington High School (assistant from 1982-84) and Upper Cape Regional High School (head coach from 1980-82).
Lawson, 59, is a Cleveland, Ohio native and a 1979 graduate of the University of New Hampshire. He and his wife, Claudia, have two children, Danny, a former Bentley player and current assistant coach at Duquesne, and Emily. They now reside in Waltham.
The Lawson Record