No. 14 Bentley Tips Off NCAA Division II East Regional with First-Ever Meeting with USciences

Macchi Smith
Macchi Smith

WALTHAM, Mass. – After seeing its 14-game winning streak come to a halt Sunday in the Northeast-10 Conference Championship game at Adelphi University, the Bentley University women's basketball team will be back in the same location Friday for the opening round of the 2017 NCAA Division II East Regional.

Bentley, ranked 14th in Division II and seeded third in the regional, will be taking on the University of the Sciences in the regional's opening game at  noon. It'll be the first-ever meeting between the two programs, both of whom are 26-5 this season.

A free webcast for all regional games will be available at http://www.packnetwork.com/ncaadiieastw/.

While coach Barbara Stevens' program will be making its record 33rd appearance and playing in its 98th game in the NCAA's (also a record), there will be a bit of unfamiliar territory for the Falcons as they attempt to earn their 15th regional crown since 1989. This will be the first time since 2010 that Bentley is on the road for the regional after having hosted the last five times they've been involved, including last March.

Although the location will be different, the experience of playing in the NCAA tournament will not be. Three of the Falcons' five starters, including senior All-America forward Jen Gemma (Milton/ Fontbonne Academy), filled the same role on last year's squad that reached the NCAA Division II national semifinals and the other two, junior guards Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School) and Trevena Bennett (Union, N.J./Gill St. Bernard School), were used off the bench.

Gemma, the Northeast-10 Player of the Year for the second straight season and Bentley's all-time leading scorer (2,136 points), has led the Falcons for the third straight winter after playing a key role off the bench on Bentley's 2014 national championship team. The six-footer had her seventh double-double since Jan. 28 in the NE10 final Sunday, 21 points and 10 rebounds.

Gemma has averaged 19.6 points and 10.6 boards in her last ten games, raising her season norms to 18.6 and 8.7.

The others who were also starters on last year's squad are junior guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) and sophomore forward Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy). Green, a second-team All-NE10 choice who leads the conference in three-pointers (78 with a .415 accuracy rate), is averaging 12.3 points and Lux is giving the team 9.1 points and 8.2 rebounds over the last ten games.

Smith, who like Green was a second-team All-Conference honoree, fills the stat sheet with 10.9 points, five rebounds, five assists and 1.5 steals while running the Falcon offense. Bennett, in her first season as a starter, averages six points with her 30 three-pointers tied for second on the team.

Off the bench, sophomore guard Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS) and junior guard Cassie Smith (Edison, N.J./Metuchen HS) have seen the most time. McConnell has been hot from three, knocking down 15 of 24 threes over the last ten. Smith pitches in with a little more than three points a game.

Bentley leads the Northeast-10 in a number of statistical categories, including scoring (71.3), field goal percentage (.436) and assists (15.3). Stevens' team is 24-0 when scoring at least 61 points this winter but 2-5 when scoring below that number.

The Falcons will be facing a Sciences team that leads Division II in fewest points allowed, giving up only 52.4. The Blue Devils have not allowed more than 60 since before February, giving up an average of 48.3 during the current nine-game win streak.

USciences relies a great deal on the three-ball with 47 percent of their shots coming from beyond the arc. Five of the Devils' top six have made at least 30 from downtown, including freshman Jordan Vitelli who has come off the bench to hit 60.

Sophomore guard Alex Thomas and junior guard Sarah Abbonizio are USciences' leading scorers, averaging 14.7 and 13.3 points, respectively with each having connected from deep over 50 times.

A look at the stats suggests the two teams like to play at different paces. The average Bentley game includes 118 shot attempts and 128.4 points while the average USciences game has 105.6 shots and 114.2 points. The Falcons shoot .436 overall, .363 from three and .744 from the line while USciences' percentages are .402, .344 and an exceptional .785.

Defensively, Bentley's opponents have been held to a .363 accuracy mark and the Devils have limited theirs to .354.

USciences, which captured the CACC tournament championship, is making its first NCAA appearance since 2006 and third overall.

The Bentley-USciences winner will take on the Assumption-Queens (N.Y.) survivor in the first semifinal Saturday at 5 pm. Queens, the second seed, will be looking to avenge a regular season loss to the Greyhounds.

In the other half of the bracket, top-seeded Adelphi is taking on NYIT in a match-up of Long Island teams and fourth-seeded Caldwell is meeting up with Molloy.