WALTHAM - Barbara Stevens went to the grease board at halftime, her fifth-ranked Bentley women’s basketball team staring at a 12-point deficit against Holy Family in the NCAA Division 2 East Regional final Monday night.
“I started diagramming some things on the board, and I put the marker down, and said, ‘this has nothing to do with X’s and O’s,’ ’’ said Stevens.
The Falcons, in her words, were confused defensively, and tentative on offense. On the Dana Center floor, no less, where Bentley has been nearly unbeaten (27-1) over the past 14 months.
“It’s about heart, and effort . . . and we said to ourselves, ‘this is not who we are,’ ’’ said Stevens.
Over the next 20 minutes, punctuated by a 13-0 blitz in the first 3 minutes, 39 seconds of the second half, the spirited Falcons took full flight, soaring to an 84-73 victory to earn a return trip to the Elite Eight.
With their 12th regional title in tow, and a Division 2-best 900th win as a program, the 30-3 Falcons will face Central Region champion Wayne State (32-2) in a national quarterfinal March 20 in San Antonio.
That trip was decided in the first four minutes of the second half.
Versatile sophomore Lauren Battista (immense at both ends with 20 points, 13 rebounds) kicked off the run, slicing through the lane for 2. Sophomore forward Jacqui Brugliera (19 points, eight rebounds) buried a trey and Bentley was back in gear.
“You could see an attitude change, almost like the weight of the world was off their shoulders,’’ said Stevens, soaking up one of her most satisfying wins of her Hall of Fame career.
Holy Family coach Mark Miller told his team to expect a bounce back from Bentley.
“Bentley is too experienced, too disciplined, and they have way too many weapons,’’ said Miller, who received 17 points off the bench from sophomore guard Ana Cruz and 15 points and eight boards from junior center Erin Mann.
“I knew [a run] was going to come.’’
Battista (9-of-12 shooting) pushed the Falcons ahead, finally, at 39-38, with a putback with 16:21 left, and after Holy Family (26-8) countered with a 5-0 run, she gave Bentley the lead for good, 46-45, on a layup.
“Who would have thought that in two or three minutes, we would be back in the game,’’ said Battista, the Oliver Ames graduate who was named the regional’s Most Outstanding player after collecting the same hardware in the Northeast-10 tournament.
“We weren’t going to let someone else come into our gym and take our net, and take our trip to San Antonio that we have worked all season for.’’
Determined, and playing with passion, Bentley shot 66.7 percent in the final 20 minutes. Junior Courtney Finn of Winthrop, scoreless in five foul-plagued minutes in the first half, delivered 15 second-half points and her creativity opened up the floor. Senior Katherine Goodwin (13 points in 35 minutes) was a rock throughout. And junior captain Kelsey Roberson of Arlington (8 points) was steady. Bentley dominated the paint, outscoring Holy Family, 38-16.
“We were all a little worried, [the first half] was so uncharacteristic of our team,’’ said Stevens.
“I’m glad everyone stayed for the second half.’’