NORTH ANDOVER — Bentley entered Tuesday night’s game at Merrimack College as one of the top teams in the East Region and the nation, ranked in the top-20 for Division II and seeded third in the latest regional rankings for the NCAA Tournament. The Falcons used 27 second-chance points to push past the Warriors, 59-53, in front of a packed crowd at Hammel Court.
“In terms of battling and coming back at them, it wasn’t an issue all night,” said Merrimack head coach Monique LeBlanc. “They went on a run, and then we would answer back. Really where we saw the difference was the second-chance points.”
Bentley had 23 offensive rebounds, out-dueling the Warriors 23-12 in that category. The Falcons converted those boards into 27 points, outdoing the Warriors 27-6 in that category.
“23 team offensive boards is double what we want to give up,” LeBlanc said. “Bentley is a great team, one of the top teams in the country, and they will convert those 23 o-boards into something and they did. That really wore on us.”
Still, with just 3:06 remaining in the game, the Warriors only trailed by two points. However, Merrimack wouldn’t get more than two points and suffered a couple of turnovers on late possessions. Bentley’s Macchi Smith was perfect from the free-throw line to seal the win for the Falcons.
Merrimack’s Denia Davis-Stewart, a freshman center, finished the night with 14 blocks and an eye-popping eight blocks. The blocks marked a new season high for the freshman and was just the 18th game in the country that featured one player with at least eight blocks. Davis-Stewart’s eight blocks were one short of the region leader for a game this season.
“Everyone can see how good she is, and I think everyone agrees she’ll be even more dominant with some meat on her,” LeBlanc said. “She’ll work on that and I think it will help her even more as a defender, allowing her to hold her own a bit more. She had 14 rebounds tonight, and I can think of seven more she could have had. That’s what is great about her. She can have 20 rebounds per night, no exaggeration.”
Merrimack will now travel to Pace on Friday night for the opening round of the NE10 Tournament. The Warriors beat Pace by 10 points earlier this season.
“They’re a good team,” LeBlanc said. “Everyone is a threat for them on the perimeter because they have some good shooters. They have some size in the middle, a 6-5 senior, and she’s big and tough. But we’ll go into the game with confidence. We beat them earlier this year and we’re excited to go down there and hopefully earn another matchup with Bentley.”