Bentley's Jeff Holmes shoots a basket against Winona State's Josh Korth yesterday
(AP Photo by Nancy Palmieri)
In the end, Bentley's effort, determined and relentless, was not good enough in the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA Division 2 Men's Elite Eight.
Not against an impressive Winona State squad focused on repeating as national champions. So the Falcons' magical ride, one stretching 32 games over the past five months, ended with a 64-51 loss in Springfield Tuesday night before an entertaining crowd of 4,267 -- the majority made up of 20 busloads of Bentley students that made the two-hour trip from Waltham.
With its 56th straight win, Winona State (34-0) advances to tonight's semifinals against Central Missouri (31-3). Bentley finishes the best season in the history of New England men's basketball at 32-1.
"That's a heck of a team that we played tonight, I'm not sure that we could have played better defense," said Bentley coach Jay Lawson, whose squad was seeking to become the first Division 2 men's champ from New England since UMass-Lowell in 1988.
"There's just not any margin for error."
There was too much Zach Malvik (game-high 19 points, 8 of 17 from the floor) out on the perimeter. Too much of the silky smooth Jonte Flowers (13 points) in the paint. And too much of the powerful 6-foot-8 John Smith (14 points, 12 rebounds) in the post.
Winona averages nearly 90 points per game, but on this night, the Warriors locked up the victory with their swarming defense. In the second half, Bentley shot just 38 percent from the floor and the Falcons finished the night just 4 for 16 from beyond the 3-point arc.
Forward Jeff Holmes, one of five Bentley seniors playing his final game, led the Falcons with 12 points and seven rebounds, Springfield native Yusuf Abdul-Ali contributed 11 and six rebounds and junior forward Nate Fritsch had 10 points.
"It's been a magical ride, it's been unbelievable," said Lawson, trying to sum up his team's spectacular.
"You're talking about a private school where everybody studies business. ... where the average SAT score for incoming freshmen is 1,280. You get to this level of basketball, we knew could play with these teams, but we're a little bit different from these other teams."
"For us, what are you going to say, we set 10 to 15 school records, we've set the record for the most wins in the history of New England colleges. We had to beat a team [Bryant] four times to make the Elite Eight. It makes the end of our season a lot easier to accept."
-- Craig Larson
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