EASTON, Mass. – Survive and advance is what you want to do at tournament time and that is exactly what the Bentley University women's basketball team did Friday afternoon in the opening round of the NCAA Division II East Regional at Stonehill College's Merkert Gymnasium.
Coach Barbara Stevens' Falcons, second seeded and ranked number nine in the WBCA Division II coaches poll, survived Jefferson University, 71-66, on the strength of a closing 16-6 run and advanced to take on USciences Saturday at 5 pm in a regional semifinal.
Bentley, 28-3 after winning its eighth straight, was led by junior center Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy), with 20 points and 12 rebounds for her 15th double-double, and junior forward Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England), with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists off the bench.
The Falcons, who fell by six when the Rams put together an 11-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters, faced a 60-55 deficit after senior forward Sasha Robinson (Brooklyn, N.Y.) made one of two at the stripe with 3:47 left.
Lux countered with a lay-up and senior guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) followed with her 245th career three-ball, connecting from the right side to even the game at 60.
After Robinson returned to the line and made two this time, Bentley graduate guard Becca Musgrove (Plainview, N.Y./St. Anthony's HS) sank the second of two free throws to bring the Falcons back within one. Following a defensive stop, Lewis drove to the basket for a go-ahead lay-up and made it a 64-62 game by converting the "and one".
The six-foot Lewis came up with a steal at the other end, and Musgrove capitalized with a ten-footer for her 998th and 999th points as a collegian. After a Robinson basket reduced Bentley's lead to two, Lux knocked down a pair of free throws with a 68-64 advantage with 45.3 seconds.
A driving lay-up by Jefferson sophomore guard Alynna Williams (Ambler, Pa.) with 18.2 seconds again made it a two-point game. Lewis went to the line with 13.4 showing and sank the second of two for a 69-66 Falcon lead. After a Ram three was well short, Bentley senior guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School) locked up the win with two free throws with 6.9 seconds to play.
Stevens, who recorded her 1,011th career, referred to it as a "tale of two halves" in her postgame press conference and she couldn't have been more accurate. Her team took a 39-29 into intermission after knocking down six of 13 three-balls, including a five-for-seven effort by her non-starters.
That included a 16-7 run to finish the second quarter with Lewis scoring seven of the 16. She got it started with a top-of-the-key three, scored on an inside basket and closed out the first-half scoring with a lay-up.
"We were executing at both ends," said Stevens. "The second half didn't start the way we wanted. We stopped executing on defense and were leaving shooters open."
Jefferson (26-6) opened the third with a 10-3 spurt, reducing the Falcon lead to three. After a Green triple and an inside basket by sophomore forward Monica Viapiano (Holden/Holy Name HS) restored the differential to eight at 47-39, the Rams closed the third with a 12-4 spurt to even the game at 51-all.
Jefferson maintained the momentum at the start of the fourth, scoring the first six to go up 57-51.
Lux, a first-team All-Northeast-10 honoree, started fast for Bentley (9 points in the first 5:37) and finished 8 of 15 from the field. Lewis made seven of her nine shots, including two of four from deep. Those two were followed on the Bentley scoring list by Musgrove's eight points.
Jefferson placed four in double figures, a list headed by junior forward Erin Maher (Lansdale, Pa.) with 16 points. Junior center Beverly Kum (Hagerstown, Md.) and junior guard Jessica Kaminski (Philadelphia, Pa.) followed with 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Bentley shot 48 percent for the game, bouncing back from 29 percent in the third to make six of nine in the fourth. Six Falcons connected from downtown, combining to make nine of 20. Jefferson shot poorly in all but the third, finishing at .391 overall and 7 of 16 from three.
Offensive rebounds allowed (16) and turnovers (19 for 21 points) both hurt Bentley and played key roles in Jefferson's ability to overcome a 12-point first-half deficit. On the other hand, the Falcons were aided by the Rams' struggles at the foul line where they were only 9 of 19.
In Saturday's game, Bentley will be looking to avenge a 73-66 loss to USciences in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Regional.
"They are outstanding and play a unique style," Stevens said of Sciences, the region's third-ranked team. "They are position-less and switch everything on defense because they can.
"But I have great faith in our team and we'll have momentum following this win," said the Women's Basketball Hall of Famer.
Saturday's game against USciences will be the 100th NCAA tournament game in Bentley's storied history.