“We crumbled under their [defensive] pressure,” summed up the versatile 6-foot sophomore from North Easton, this year’s Northeast-10 Player of Year.
“I know, personally, that I missed easy shots that I make all the time. We knew what to expect [this time].”
The rematch, in Sunday’s NE-10 championship game, was a far different story.
Bentley was relentless at the defensive end from the opening tap, converting five turnovers in the first three minutes into a 10-0 cushion en route to a convincing 79-52 victory over Southern Connecticut at the Dana Center to repeat as conference champions.
The sixth-ranked Falcons (27-3), who have won 15 of their last 16 games, will host the Division 2 East Regional tournament (pairings below) this weekend, shooting for their second straight trip to the Elite 8.
The tourney’s Most Outstanding Player for second straight year, Battista (20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals in 29 minutes) was sensational, but junior guard Courtney Finn (7 of 12, 16 points) of Winthrop was superb too at both ends of the court, SC (24-5) unable to contain her aggressive slashes to the basket.
The Falcons pocketed 16 steals, one shy of their season-high, forced 28 turnovers, and netted 40 points in the paint.
The defensive work started with 6-foot sophomore Jacqui Brugliera (12 points, 9 rebounds), who made life miserable in the paint for Moni Smith-Ocean (10 points, 7 rebounds in 22 foul-plagued minutes). Brugliera was sidelined the first meeting with a concussion, and Smith-Ocean had been dominant with 12 points and 17 rebounds.
“Jacqui is such a critical member of our team, a great post defender, tough, and physical,” said Battista.
After their 10-0 start, the Falcons closed the first 20 minutes with a 13-0 blitz and a 22-point spread, 50-28. Bentley netted 19 points off turnovers in the first half.
Southern Connecticut coach Meghan Brown said “Player for player, position for position, they manhandled us.”
"We didn't want to be put back on our heels like we were the other night," said Bentley coach Barbara Stevens, pointing Thursday night's exhausting semifinal against Franklin Pierce, in which the Falcons escaped with a 69-67 double-overtime win.
"It was a dominating defensive performance (today). At the same time, our offense got out of jail, so to speak, because against Franklin Pierce, we couldn't put the ball in the ocean. Finally, we were making shots. ... We got into a good flow, a good rhythm."
NCAA DIVISION 2 EAST REGIONAL
Quarterfinals, Friday, March 9
#3 Dowling (22-6) vs. #6 Holy Family (24-7), 12:00 noon
#2 Southern Connecticut St. (24-5) vs. #7 C.W. Post (21-9), 2:30 pm
#1 Bentley (27-3) vs. #8 District of Columbia (21-6), 6 pm
#4 Pace (20-8) vs. #5 Franklin Pierce (19-9), 8:30 pm
Semifinals, Saturday, March 10
#3-#6 winner vs. #2-#7 winner, 5:00 pm
#1-#8 winner vs. #4-#5 winner, 7:30 pm
Championship, Monday, March 12, 7 p.m.
* Winner advances to Elite Eight in San Antonio, March 20-23.
- Michael Vega
- Mark Blaudschun
- Nancy Marrapese-Burrell