NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Junior guard Trevena Bennett (Union, N.J./Gill St. Bernard School) broke a 43-all tie with a rare four-point play with 7:51 left and junior point guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School) came up big at the defensive end in the final minute as Bentley University held off Merrimack College, 59-53, in Northeast-10 Conference women's basketball Tuesday evening on Hammel Court.
Bentley, which received a 23-point, 13-rebound double-double from senior All-America forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy), closed out the regular season with a 12-game winning streak. The Falcons improved to 24-4 overall and 20-1 NE10 while Merrimack dipped to 12-14 (10-11).
After Merrimack twice tied the game in the first couple minutes of the fourth, Bennett knocked down a three-ball from the left side. She was fouled on the play and tacked on the free throw for a 47-43 lead with 7:51 to play.
The upset-minded Warriors made it a two-point game three times the rest of the way, the last coming on a long two-pointer by sophomore guard Karlee Alves (Ellington, Conn.) from the left corner with 1:53 to play, making it 55-53.
The score was the same when Smith came up with a steal with 31.1 seconds left. The conference's most accurate foul shooter knocked down both, producing a four-point advantage with 25.5 seconds showing. Merrimack's next possession also ended with a Smith steal, and she pushed the lead to six with two more from the stripe with 11.7 seconds left. Smith ended the game by corralling her career-best 12th rebound and running out the clock.
In a first half where both teams struggled offensively, Bentley emerged with a 27-20 lead as the result of a 3-0 advantage in three-pointers, a plus-13 rebound margin and 11 second-chance points to only two for the Warriors.
Bentley used two runs to build its lead, seven unanswered points around the first quarter break and a 9-1 late in the second quarter. The second included six points from Gemma, whose eight first-half points was one less than the nine scored by junior guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS).
Merrimack started the second half with a 16-6 run to take a 36-33 lead with 3:37 left in the third. The Falcons answered with eight unanswered, a run fueled by Gemma. She made the first of two at the foul line before a lay-up by sophomore forward Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy) tied the game at 36-all.
Gemma hit a go-ahead three from the top of the key with 2:01 remaining and followed with an elbow jumper for a 41-36 lead. The difference stood at three heading into the fourth after the Warriors ended the 8-0 run with a lay-up.
Green followed Gemma in the scoring column, finishing with 14 points, along with four assists and three steals. Bennett added nine, and Smith's line, in addition to the dozen boards, included four steals and two assists. Her four free throws in the final minute marked her only points of the contest.
Second-chance points were key to the Bentley victory with the Falcons surviving a 28 percent shooting night by grabbing 23 offensive boards, including 11 by Gemma alone. They turned them into 27 points while limiting the Warriors to six second-chance points on 12 offensive rebounds.
Sophomore guard Lexi Martin (Franklin) led Merrimack with 12 points.
There is a chance Bentley could see the Warriors again Sunday afternoon at home in the quarterfinals of the Northeast-10 Championships. Merrimack will play a first-round game at Pace Friday night with the winner advancing to face the Falcons.