WALTHAM, Mass. – Six-foot-three center Danielle Wilson (Bay Shore, N.Y), a former All-Big 12 honoree at Baylor University, was the biggest player on the court Monday night and she made the game's biggest shot, a put-back with 5.4 seconds left to give third-seeded Dowling College a 53-51 win over top-seeded and two-time defending champion Bentley University in the championship game of the NCAA Division II Women's Basketball East Regional at the Dana Center.
Dowling, following what Golden Lion coach Joe Pellicane called "without question, the greatest win in the program's history", will be headed to San Antonio for its first-ever visit to the Elite Eight. Bentley, which had won 28 straight at home and its last 11 home NCAA tournament games, saw its season come to a sudden stop at 30-2.
"Achieving this against the best person and coach (Bentley's Barbara Stevens) I know in the game, and to be able to compete with Bentley, which is perhaps the best Division II program in the country, is just special," said Pellicane.
Wilson finished with 23 points, on 9-of-14 shooting, along with 15 rebounds and two blocks. She was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player after averaging 19.3 points and 16.7 rebounds in wins over New York Institute of Technology, Stonehill College and the Falcons, who had been ranked third nationally in Division II.
Dowling is known for its defense (the Golden Lions rank first in Division II in both fewest points allowed and opponents field goal percentage), but it was their offensive rebounds in the final two-and-a-half minutes that helped do in the Falcons.
Following a missed lay-up by junior All-America Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS) with about 2:45 left, the Falcons had just two more possessions, one of which followed Wilson's game-winner.
From 2:20 to the 50 second mark of the second half, while holding on to a 51-50 lead, Dowling missed four shots, but came down with the offensive board each time, each by a different player. The Golden Lions eventually came up empty on that possession after Bentley senior guard Courtney Finn (Winthrop/Winthrop HS) took a charge with 50.6 seconds left.
Battista was fouled with 34.7 seconds left and made the first from the line, but the second wouldn't fall for the 82 percent foul shooter, keeping the game even at 51. The rebound went to Dowling's Rekik Worku (Wynnewood, Pa.) and a jumper with about seven seconds left by senior guard Connie Simmons (Syosset, N.Y.) was well short, but Wilson snared it out of the air for her seventh offensive rebound and what proved to be the winning basket.
The ball was inbounded to senior guard Kelsey Roberson (Arlington/Arlington Catholic HS), and she raced down the court, driving to the basket. However, her attempt at the buzzer was off the mark and Dowling became the first visiting team to win a regional title at the Dana Center since Pace University in 2001.
Bentley, which trailed by as many as 17 in a dismal start to the game forced by the Dowling D, took its first lead on a Finn put-back with 11:30 left, 44-42. Finn again broke a tie with two free throws to play with 10:45 on the clock, and after Dowling again evened the score, freshman guard Jane White (Amherst, N.H./Souhegan HS) beat the shot clock buzzer with a runner with 9:48 left, putting Bentley up 50-48.
Remarkably, that would be the Falcons' final basket of the 2012-13 season as they missed their final nine field goal attempts of the night.
A second-chance basket by Wilson with 8:45 left evened the score at 48 apiece, but the Falcons regained the lead for one last time on a pair of free throws by junior forward Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg/Wachusett Reg. HS) with 7:14 left. Dowling sophomore guard Christine Verelle (Abington, Pa.) drained a three from the right wing with 7:01 to play, putting her team up one, and that would be the last points by either team for nearly six-and-a-half minutes, until Battista's tying free throws.
Dowling scored the game's first seven points, but a pair of threes by Brugliera and Roberson helped the Falcons get back within three at 13-10. However, 15 of the game's next 16 points went up on the visitor's side of the scoreboard, and the Falcons found themselves in a 17-point hole, 28-11, with six minutes left in the first.
"To get down so much is just really hard," said Stevens. "And we were down so much because they are such an outstanding defensive club. "
Four threes in the final 4:30 of the half, two apiece from Finn and senior forward Caleigh Crowell (Harwich/Worcester Academy), cut the deficit to ten at intermission, 35-25. During the first 20 minutes, six of the Falcons' eight first-half baskets were from downtown, while Dowling had a 24-2 advantage in points in the paint and six combined blocks by Wilson and junior forward Julia Koppl (Innsbruck, Austria), who had a significant impact despite not scoring.
Finn's put-back that put Bentley in front for the first time, 44-42, capped a 17-2 explosion that including seven points by Finn and four by Brugiera.
Simmons also had a double-double for Dowling, finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Finn led Bentley with 15 points and nine rebounds, Brugliera followed with 11 and eight, and Battista finished with eight and seven while becoming only the tenth player in program history to eclipse the 1,500 career point milestone. Crowell also chipped in with eight, along with two blocks.
Joining Wilson on the All-Tournament team were Battista, Brugliera, Simmons and Stonehill's Mary Louise Dixon.
Both teams shot 33 percent, but Dowling had 16 more shots due in large part to its 15 offensive rebounds. In addition to keeping the ball out of the Falcons' hands, that produced a 14-6 edge in second-chance points.
Roberson, the only Falcon who won't be back next year, finished with six points in her 126th and final collegiate game.
"I think for all of us returning , it will make us more hungry," said Battista. "This will fuel our fire even more."