WALTHAM, Mass. – Senior All-America forward Lauren Battista (North Easton/Oliver Ames HS) tied her career-best with 29 points, eclipsing the 2,000-mark for her career in the process, and collected an unprecedented fourth consecutive Northeast-10 Conference Championship MVP award as Bentley University put on a sparkling offensive performance en route to its fourth straight NE-10 title, 99-76 over Adelphi University Sunday afternoon at the Dana Center.
Bentley, the season-long number one in the USA TODAY Sports/WBCA Division II coaches' poll, ran its record to 29-0 and clinched the automatic berth into next weekend's NCAA Division II East Regional. It was the second time in conference history a team has won four straight conference championships, with his year's group of Falcons duplicating their predecessors from 1998-2001. All-time, Bentley has 18 NE-10 titles to its credit, including 10 in the last 17 years.
"I'm very proud of the way our team performed today," said 14-time NE-10 Coach of the Year Barbara Stevens after her 911th career win. "I was happy to see us play a spirited game. In the first half, we had a lot of offensive weapons and were also doing a good job defensively."
Battista was nothing short of sensational in her school record 127th career start as she hit 11 of 17 shots overall, including three of five from downtown, and all four of her free throws. In addition, she provided six assists, four rebounds and one steal, and turned the ball over just once in 31 minutes of action.
Bentley's all-time leading scorer joined the 2,000-point club with an inside move at 6:19 of the first half, a basket that made it 50-23 at the time. She had 21 points by the break, helping the Falcons 64 points (a school record for a half) and a 27-point lead, and finished the game with 2,011 for her career.
"Lauren gave us a player of the year performance today and showed her tremendous versatility," said Stevens. "She's a distributor, a scorer and she was also asked to cover Sade Jackson. I'm so glad she's on our side."
Not to be overshadowed was the performance of senior forward Caleigh Crowell (Harwich/ Worcester Academy), who drilled five three-pointers en route to a 22-point afternoon, 15 of which came before intermission.
After the Panthers , the top seed out of the NE-10's Southwest Division, jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead, Bentley embarked on a 28-5 blitzing of the visitors over a span of six-and-a-half minutes. That produced a 30-11 lead with more than 12 minutes still left on the first-half clock and Adelphi (22-7) never got closer than 17 again.
"Our team was very ready to play, but I think their first three possessions got our attention," said Stevens.
That 28-5 began with a dozen unanswered points, a run that featured eight points by Crowell. She got it going with a three from the right wing, and later added a lay-up and another trifecta during the spurt.
By the time freshman forward Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy) scored with 12:29 to make it a 30-11 game, Bentley was shooting a ridiculous 81 percent, having put 13 of 16 shots through the basket.
Battista's 2,000th came in the midst of an 18-6 run that made it a 59-27 game with 2:44 left until the break. The final points during that span came on a three-ball from grad student Courtney Finn (Winthrop/Winthrop HS), Bentley's 23rd field goal in 31 attempts.
It was more of the same throughout the first eight minutes of the second half. Adelphi netted the first basket when play resumed, but Bentley followed with a 21-6 explosion that made it a 40-point game, 85-45.
Battista and Crowell were followed in the scoring column by Finn and Gemma, with 16 and 14, respectively. Finn added eight rebounds, three assists and two steals, and Gemma helped out with six boards.
Bentley also received six points and seven rebounds apiece from seniors Jacqui Brugliera (Fitchburg/Wachusett Reg. HS) and Christiana Bakolas (Manchester, N.H./Central HS), with Bakolas also matching Battista's six assists.
Senior guard Sade Jackson (Hackensack, N.J.) led Adelphi with 21 points and four assists, and classmate Jessica Kitrys (Parlin, N.J.) followed with 20 points. Both were plagued by turnovers (11 of the team's 20) and fouls (four apiece).
Bentley shot 66 percent in the opening half, including 7-of-10 from three, and finished at .576 overall with 10 threes in 22 attempts. The Panthers were limited to 40 percent and were outrebounded by ten, 45-35.
The field for the NCAA Division II Championships will be announced during a selection show tonight at 10 pm at http://www.ncaa.com/live/player?vid=2014/1345&date=2014/03/09.