WALTHAM, Mass. – Senior guard Sylvonya Moore (Stockton, Calif.) put up 21 points, nine rebounds and three steals, and sophomore forward Moni Smith-Ocran (Bronx, N.Y.) added 16 boards and a dozen markers, as Southern Connecticut State finished strong for a 63-59 win over Bentley University in a battle of Northeast-10 Conference women's basketball elite Saturday afternoon at the Dana Center.
The outcome left the two teams even at the top of the NE-10 standings, both with 13-2 conference records, although the Owls will control the tie-breaker if the two teams finish tied. Bentley, ranked fifth in Division II this week, dropped to 17-3 overall after having its home win streak halted at 17, and Southern Connecticut (16-3) ran its win streak to 14 games.
After Southern came out of the second-half gate with an 8-2 spurt to take its biggest lead of the game (35-27 with 14:42 left), the Falcons countered with a 13-2 run to go up 40-37 midway through the final 20 minutes. Eight of the 13 were provided by sophomore All-Conference forward Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS).
Bentley maintained a slim lead until junior guard Camille Fantini (Andover) hit a game-tying three for the Owls, making it 50-all with 5:48 left.
About three minutes later, with the score even at 52, Smith put her team in front for good with a lay-up following a lengthy possession extended by three offensive rebounds and a Falcon foul. Following a Bentley free throw, a lay-up from junior Keisha Primo (Mississauga, Ont.) and a Southern free throw made it 57-53 with 2:05 left.
It stayed that way until Bentley junior guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop/Winthrop HS) buried a corner three with 58 seconds left, bringing the Falcons within one. However, Moore responded with a three-point play and the Owls secured their 14th consecutive win by making three of four free throws in the final 30 seconds while holding the Falcons scoreless until a three-pointer at the buzzer.
In the final four minutes, Bentley was just two of eight from the floor, including the late trey, with two turnovers.
Southern went into the halftime break on the positive side of a 27-25 score following a late fastbreak jumper by Moore, the Owls' 15th and 16th points off turnovers in the half.
Bentley started the game fast, taking a 6-1 lead while Southern missed its first five shots from the floor. The Owls countered with a 12-2 as the Falcons went six minutes between field goals and led by as many as 17-10.
Two free throws by sophomore guard Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) and a foul-line jumper from junior forward Caleigh Crowell (Harwich/Worcester Academy) squared the score at 25-apiece. Bentley had a chance to take the lead in the waning seconds of the half, but Moore's third takeaway of the opening 20 minutes set up her go-ahead basket.
Finn had a strong game for the Falcons, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Battista followed with 13 points and five boards, and senior guard Katherine Goodwin (Goffstown, N.H./ Governors Academy) left the court with nine points and six rebounds.
Joining Moore and Smith-Ocran in doubles were Fantini, with 16 points and nine rebounds, and Primo, with a dozen off the bench.
Neither team shot well with Bentley having the edge in field goal percentage, 38-34 percent. Southern became only the fourth team all season to outrebound the Falcons, finishing with a 47-34 advantage, and the Owls were more efficient in scoring after takeaways, with a 23-14 edge.
Bentley will look to bounce back Tuesday when it hosts Merrimack at 5:30 pm.