EASTON, Mass. – An outstanding season for the Bentley University women's basketball team ended Saturday evening with the second-seeded Falcons falling to number three USciences, 61-54, in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II East Regional at Stonehill College's Merkert Gym.
Bentley, 28-4, overcame a ten-point third-quarter deficit to briefly take a 49-48 lead midway through the fourth but were outscored 13-5 down the stretch as the Devils qualified for Monday's regional championship.
"I think they are a terrific team with so many weapons," said Bentley head coach Barbara Stevens after seeing USciences end her team's season for the second straight year. "What they do they do so well and if you make a mistake, they make you pay
"All in all, I'm extremely proud of our team and our season," said the fourth winningest coach in NCAA women's basketball history. "Most importantly, the best thing for a coach is to look at the people on your team, and be able to step back and say these are wonderful young women. And I can say that."
Senior guard Sarah Abbonizio (West Chester, Pa.) led USciences with 20 points, including 14 in the second period alone. The Devils also received a strong showing from junior guard Alex Thomas (Hockessin, Del.), who scored six during her team's closing burst and finished with 16 points and eight rebounds.
Graduate guard Becca Musgrove (Plainview, N.Y./St. Anthony's HS) led Bentley with 11 points, a total that included her 1,000th career marker as a collegian. The milestone basket for the Brown transfer came on a 15-foot pull-up just past the midpoint of the opening quarter.
Bentley shot 64 percent in the first quarter but faced a 22-19 deficit as a result of six three-pointers by USciences. Three of those were launched by senior forward Colleen Walsh (Downington, Pa.).
In the second, Musgrove sank two free throws with 3:26 left to put Bentley up one, 33-32, but the Devils again closed a quarter strong. This time it was a 8-1 burst, capped by a three from Abbonizio, and the team from Philadelphia went into the break up six, 40-34.
USciences stretched the lead to ten midway through a low-scoring third quarter (only 13 combined points) before being held scoreless for more than nine minutes. Bentley cut into their advantage with five straight points from junior forward Megan Lewis (Sevenoaks, England) – a three and a reverse lay-up – and trailed 46-41 after three.
Bentley started the fourth with a put-back from junior center Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/ Thornton Academy), a drive by Lewis and one of two free throws by Lewis to knot the game at 46. Thomas gave her team the lead back with an inside basket before Musgrove responded with a go-head three from the left side.
USciences responded to falling behind by one by scoring the game's next seven points on a scoop lay-up from freshman guard Irisa Ye (Lansdale, Pa.), a triple from Thomas and a drive by Abbonizio. Bentley made it a one-possession game, 55-52, when senior guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./Windward School) hit one of two free throws with 66 seconds left. Thomas answered with a lay-up and two free throws from sophomore guard Jordan Vitelli (Warrington, Pa.) returned it to a three-possession game with 12 seconds left.
"It was a hard-fought battle, two teams that really play some defense," said Stevens. "Although first half we let them hit some threes and didn't control the boards like we wanted to. But I thought the second half was a real battle.
"Becca hits the three, that puts us up and we feel like we have some life. Then they come down and make a great play," continued Stevens.
Bentley, held to 20 below its season scoring norm, shot only 33 percent, including just 8 of 32 (.250) in the second half. Musgrove was followed in the scoring column by Smith and Lewis, each with ten points. All three of the Falcons' double-figure scorers had four rebounds and Lewis helped with two blocks and a steal.
Abbonizio and Thomas combined to make 14 of 24 shots and four of six triples for the Devils, but the rest of the team struggled against the Falcon D, combining for 8 of 30 overall, including 5 of 19 from deep. USciences, which shot .407 overall, contained from three after the opening stanza, making only 3 of 12 in the final three quarters.
It was the final game for a quintet of Falcons: Musgrove, Macchi Smith, Cassie Smith (Edison, N.J./Metuchen HS), Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) and Trevena Bennett (Union, N.J./ Gill-St. Bernard School).