GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – The 2016-17 Bentley University women's basketball season came to a disappointing end Friday afternoon when the third-seeded Falcons dropped a 73-66 decision to sixth-seeded University of the Sciences in the opening game of the NCAA Division II East Regional at Adelphi University's Center for Recreation and Sciences.
The Blue Devils ran their winning streak to ten and advanced to Saturday's regional semifinals by knocking 12 of 21 three-pointers in the opening three quarters and making six of eight two-pointers, along with 11 of 14 free throws in the fourth.
Sophomore guard Alex Thomas (Hockessin, Del.) and junior guard Sarah Abbonizio (West Chester, Pa.) combined for 42 points to lead USciences while junior guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School) paced Bentley with 21 points, nine rebounds, five assists and two turnovers.
The Falcons, who were down 50-38 after three and trailed by as many as 15 in the fourth, used the press to stage a fourth-quarter comeback. It began by scoring six points in less than 50 seconds to get within eight, 61-53 with 3:10 left. Senior All-America forward Jen Gemma (Milton, Mass./ Fontbonne Academy) hit a second-chance straight-ahead three, junior guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) made one of two free throws after a steal, and after a Gemma rejection, freshman guard Julia Ford (Charlton, Mass./Noble and Greenough School) scored her only basket on a lay-up.
A Green triple from the left wing with 2:25 left made it a seven-point game, and a 6-0 run created a one-possession game, 65-62, with 64 seconds remaining. That spurt, coming in a span of 33 seconds, included two free throws by Gemma, a Smith lay-up and after a Gemma steal, two free throws by Smith.
USciences held off the charge by making eight of ten free throws in the final 62 seconds, including five from Abboinizio and three from freshman guard Jordan Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.).
The Blue Devils, who were making their first NCAA appearance since 2006, knocked down three triples in the first 4:19 to jump out to an 11-2 lead. While they had the hot hand from downtown, Bentley scored on only one of its first nine possessions as the result of 1-for-6 shooting and three turnovers.
Down seven after one, Bentley began the second with an 11-4 run to forge the game's only tie, at 21-21. Smith had five of the points, Green four and grad student Melina Kollia (Athens, Greece) scored the tying basket on an inside shot before missing a free throw that would have put the Falcons in front.
Thomas drained her third three of the half a couple seconds before the horn to send USciences into the break up four at 30-26. During that opening 20 minutes, the Blue Devils were 8 of 15 from downtown but only 1 of 14 from inside the arc. Meanwhile, Bentley was hurt by ten turnovers and five missed free throws in seven attempts.
USciences ran off 11 unanswered midway through the third to open a 46-33 lead. That burst featured the three with Thomas, junior forward Laura Trisch (Doylestown, Pa.) and Vitelli all connecting from deep. Gemma put an end to the run with a three of her own, but the game clock would be down to 3:10 in the fourth before the Falcons would be closer than ten.
Thomas buried five of six three-pointers en route to a game-high 23 and Abbonizio's 19 included 10 of 13 from the line.
Smith amassed her 21 by making seven of 14 overall, two of five triples and five of seven free throws.
Gemma, who followed with 15 points, eight rebounds and two steals, concluded her brilliant career with a Bentley record 2,151 points, a total that ranks fifth in Northeast-10 Conference history and 13th in East Region annals.
Bentley also received 13 points from Green and 11 off the bench from sophomore guard Amy McConnell (South Windsor, Conn./South Windsor HS).
The Blue Devils, 27-5, had the statistical edge in most categories, including field goal percentage (.312-.383), three-pointers (12-8), three-point accuracy (.545-.286), free throws (19-12) and rebounds (39-35). Bentley took better care of the ball in the second half (only 3 turns) and forced USciences into a total of 16, half of which came in the fourth.
Bentley, which finished its season at 26-6, will lose three to graduation with Gemma, Kollia and reserve senior forward Julia Davis (Ipswich, Mass./Ipswich HS), a co-captain with Gemma, all having worn the Falcon uniform for the final time. However, the Falcons will welcome back sophomore guard Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England), who missed the entire campaign after an offseason injury.