NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Freshman forward Trevena Bennett (Union, N.J./Gill St. Bernard's HS) began her college career with 18 points and sophomore post Jen Gemma (Milton/Fontbonne Academy) turned in a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double as defending NCAA Division II women's basketball national champion Bentley University opened with a 62-52 win over Goldey-Beacom College in the Northeast-10/CACC Challenge at Merrimack College Friday night.
Bentley, ranked number five in the preseason USA Today/WBCA Division II poll, never trailed while extending its winning streak to 36 games but also could never put the Lightning away with the lead remaining in single figures most of the night.
The Falcons started fast, using five points by Bennett and four from senior forward Carlene Kluge (Reading/Reading HS) to open a 13-4 lead after five minutes. Bentley would not enjoy a bigger lead until a Kluge basket with 7:41 left in the second made it a 51-41 game.
Coach Barbara Stevens' team, which was up 27-19 at the half, saw its advantage shrink to just one, 42-41, when senior guard Lillian Chukwueze (Cherry Hill, N.J.) hit a basket with 10:15 remaining.
Bentley countered by scoring the game's next nine points, a run capped by Kluge's afore-mentioned basket. Prior to that, freshman guard Lauren Green (Damascus, Md./Damascus HS) drained a three-ball and both Gemma and Bennett scored inside.
After Goldey-Beacom got back within five, Bennett connected on her fourth three-pointer of the night to restore the differential to eight, 58-50 with 2:45 left. The Lightning followed with their final basket of the game, but Green came back with a lay-up to make it 60-52, and the only scoring over the final two minutes were two free throws by Bentley freshman guard Macchi Smith (Los Angeles, Calif./ Windward School).
Bennett shot seven of 15 overall and made half of her eight attempts from outside the arc in her collegiate debut. She also helped out with four rebounds.
Gemma had 17 points and 12 rebounds in her first collegiate start, and both Green and Kluge helped out with seven points.
Bentley, whose starting five had only one career start between them at the start of the night, dominated the boards, 51-34. Twenty of those came at the offensive end, including six by sophomore forward Brittany Gregory (Fishkill, N.Y./John Jay HS) who finished with a career-high 11 total rebounds. That helped produce a 20-4 advantage in second-chance points.
Chukwueze led Goldey-Beacom with 17 points and seven rebounds.
Bentley will be back at Merrimack Saturday afternoon for a 1:30 pm encounter with Post University.