WALTHAM, Mass. -- Senior guard Tom Dowling (Rockville Centre, N.Y./South Side HS) scored a game-high 21 points and the top-seeded Bentley University Falcons stormed out to a 41-22 halftime lead en route to a 76-63 victory over The College of Saint Rose Sunday night in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball East Regional at the Dana Center.
The victory elevated Bentley, ranked 22nd in the latest NABC Division II top 25, into the regional championship game for the fifth straight year. Coach Jay Lawson's club will be looking for its fourth Elite Eight trip since 2007 Tuesday night when it hosts Bloomfield College in the regional final.
Saint Rose had a couple very early leads at 2-0 and 4-3 before senior forward Brian Tracey (Bow Mar, Colo./Heritage HS) drained a triple from out front to give the Falcons the lead. Graduate guard Mike Quinn (Oakdale, Conn./Montville HS) finished a fast-break lay-up, and Bentley continued to roll throughout a dominating first half.
About thirty seconds after drawing a charge, junior guard Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/ Winthrop HS) buried a three to make it a 17-7 lead. Following a couple Golden Knight jumpers, a 9-2 run stretched the lead to 14, 26-12, with seven minutes left in the half. That surge included four points from sophomore forward Dan O'Keefe (Lexington/Lexington HS) and was finished by a Quinn trifecta.
A 15-6 spurt over the final five minutes of the first half sent the Falcons into the break riding a commanding 19-point lead, 41-22. Two Quinn treys in the final 45 seconds closed out the impressive opening stanza.
During that opening 20 minutes, Bentley shot 56 percent overall, nearly double the Golden Knights' .286, and knocked down 7 of 13 three-pointers. Quinn led the way with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting and O'Keefe provided eight off the bench.
The momentum carried into the second half, and by the time Tracey sank a pair of free throws 3:13 into the second, Bentley had doubled the visitors, 54-27, and its field goal accuracy was up to 61 percent.
An 11-2 run got Saint Rose back to within 16, 60-44, with 9:20 left, but that would be as close as the Knights would get until the clock got down to 2:07. A dunk by Saint Rose junior forward Brian Hanuschak (Cumberland, R.I.) in the final five seconds reduced the Falcon lead to under 15 for the first time since Quinn's three with 40 seconds left in the opening half.
Dowling's 21 points included a 9-for-9 effort from the free throw stripe as he helped the Falcons set a team record in that category. Bentley was perfect in 22 trips to the line, bettering the school record of 18 set against Springfield in December 1974.
"I'm excited about Tommy getting to play in the regional championship," said Lawson. "He's a big piece for us, but at times he's been a missing piece." Dowling was injured down the stretch last year and missed the final seven weeks, including the Falcons' Sweet Sixteen win over Philadelphia. Two years ago, when the Falcons lost to C.W. Post in the East final, he was also hurt after spraining his ankle in the semis.
Tracey and Quinn were Bentley's other double-figure scorers with each tallying 11 points. Leclerc and senior forward Joe Fremeau (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) each followed with nine, and O'Keefe did all his scoring in the opening half, hitting three-of-four shots.
Hanuschak had a team-best 16 for Saint Rose, which finished its season at 22-9 and saw All-Conference guard Rob Gutierrez (Brooklyn, N.Y.) foul out with 16 minutes still to play.
Bentley tailed off with its shooting over the final 16 minutes, but still finished at 49 percent overall and 40 percent from three. The Falcons amassed 17 assists on 23 baskets with six different players recording at least two, Quinn leading the way with four.
Bentley will be paired with seventh-seeded Bloomfield, which is undefeated at the Dana Center this season after a quarterfinal win over second-seeded American International, a 79-66 win over third-seeded Stonehill in the first semifinal, and an 86-84 win over Bentley back in November in the team's opener.
"They are better than they were when they beat us," said Lawson, whose team has won 13 of its last 14 regional games. "They literally took it from us that day (26 Falcon turnovers), and they've added the big kid (6-7, 225-point Kevin Udo), who can rebound, score and block shots. This will be a challenge. There is a reason that Bloomfield is in this game."
Tuesday's championship game will tip at 8:30, after the Bentley women face Pace University in their NCAA East Regional final (6 pm.)
At Waltham, Mass. (Dana Center)
BENTLEY 76, SAINT ROSE 63
SAINT ROSE (22-9) -- Brian Hanuschak 6-13 4-5 16; Dominykas Milka 3-8 6-8 12; Rob Gutierrez 4-10 2-2 10; Andre Pope 3-13 2-2 9; Kareem Thomas 3-6 0-0 8; Sheldon Griffin 1-3 2-3 4; Shea Bromirski 1-5 1-1 3; Devin Grimes 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 21-58 18-23 63.
BENTLEY (24-7) -- Tom Dowling 5-11 9-9 21; Mike Quinn 4-6 0-0 11; Brian Tracey 2-6 6-6 11; Sam Leclerc 3-7 2-2 9; Joe Fremeau 3-4 3-3 9; Dan O'Keefe 3-4 2-2 8; Greg Jacques 2-8 0-0 4; Jasper Grassa 1-1 0-0 3; Kevin Kettl 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-47 22-22 76.
Halftime: B 41-22; 3-point goals--SR 3-15 (Thomas 2-4; Andre Pope 1-6; Rob Gutierrez 0-1; Sheldon Griffin 0-1; Shea Bromirski 0-2; Brian Hanuschak 0-1), B 8-20 (Mike Quinn 3-5; Tom Dowling 2-6; Jasper Grassa 1-1; Brian Tracey 1-2; Sam Leclerc 1-3; Greg Jacques 0-2; Dan O'Keefe 0-1). Fouled out--SR-Rob Gutierrez, B-Brian Tracey. Rebounds--Saint Rose 36 (Dominykas Milka 7; Andre Pope 7; Brian Hanuschak 7), B 28 (Joe Fremeau 7; Brian Tracey 7). Assists--SR 9 (Andre Pope 3), B 17 (Mike Quinn 4). Total fouls--SR 20, B 17. Technical fouls-- None.