March 15, 2009

BROOKVILLE, N.Y. -- Junior guard Jason Westrol (Brielle, N.J./Manasquan HS), playing in his 100th career game, buried a straight-away three-pointer from 22 feet with 2.7 seconds left in the second overtime to give Bentley University a come-from-behind 79-76 win over Merrimack College in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Semifinal East Regional Sunday night at C.W. Post's Pratt Recreation Center.

Bentley, the two-time defending regional champion, advanced to the regional final for the fourth time in five years, and will take undefeated C.W. Post, a 75-61 winner over Assumption, Tuesday night on the same court with a berth in the Elite Eight at stake.

"Jason struggled down the stretch in regulation and also in the first OT," said Bentley coach Jay Lawson. "But he's a special player, so mentally tough. He stepped up and we needed it."

The 26-6 Falcons, who had led by nine with three minutes left in regulation and by seven with 65 seconds left in the first extra session, fell behind by five when Merrimack junior guard Darren Duncan opened the second OT with a three-point play and an eight-foot jumper. That gave the Warriors a 72-67 advantage.

"We were half in the grave at that point," said Lawson. At that juncture, his team was not only down five, but had lost two of its top five, Tracey and senior Lew Finnegan (Lexington, Mass./Lexington HS), to fouls and had another, sophomore guard Tom Dowling (Rockville Centre, N.Y./South Side HS), hampered by an ankle injury.

Bentley finished the game with a 12-4 run over the final 3:25, with Westrol responsible for the final 10. He nailed a three with 2:30 left to even the score at 72, banked in a 12-footer with 1:22 remaining to put the Falcons up at 74-72, and again broke a tie with a 10-foot jumper with 35.2 seconds to play.

After a lay-up from Merrimack junior guard Craig Woehnker (Colts Neck N.J.) tied the game for the 11th time with 25.8 seconds left, Bentley got the ball into Westrol's hands, just as it had at the end of regulation and the first OT.

This time, Westrol was successful, running down the clock before launching an open triple from directly in front of the basket that dropped through with 2.7 ticks left, his 20th, 21st and 22nd points of the night. Merrimack had time for a desperation three from 75 feet, but Duncan's attempt was way short and the Falcons had their eighth straight win in the regional.

Bentley, down three at the half, limited the Warriors to just 15 points over the first 17 minutes of the second half and opened a 55-46 lead.

However, Merrimack closed with a 11-2 spurt, tying the game at 57 on a Duncan three-point play with 19.8 seconds left. Westrol held for the last shot, but this time his long two-point attempt didn't fall.

In the first OT, a three-point follow-up play by sophomore forward Brian Tracey (Bow Mar, Colo./Heritage HS) and another put-back by junior guard John Brandt (Pawtucket, R.I./Wheeler School) provided the Falcons with a 66-59 lead with 1:25 left.  Merrimack would not go away, and used three-pointers from Duncan and sophomore guard Darin Mency (Hagerstown, Md.), the last one with 27.8 seconds left to square the score at 67-all.

Again, Bentley went to Westrol, and this time, he was stripped by Duncan, the NE-10 steal leader, just before the buzzer.  Duncan launched a heave from 60 that wasn't too far off the mark.

Westrol, who had just four goals on 1-for-6 shooting in the first half, led five double-figure scorers for the Falcons with 22 points, and also contributed eight boards and two assists.

Dowling followed with 14 points, seven rebounds and a couple assists, and Finnegan amassed 12 points, seven boards and three assists. Tracey had his second double-double in as many nights, finishing with 11 points and a career-best 12 rebounds, and sophomore guard Mike Quinn (Oakdale, Conn./Montville HS) also scored 11.

Mency led all scorers with 29 points, and also finished with 11 boards, and Duncan followed with 21 points, six assists and three steals while playing all but one minute.

Bentley dominated the boards, finishing with a 16-rebound advantage (54-38), including 37-24 after the halftime break. That helped offset an uncharacteristic 22 turnovers, which Merrimack used for a 24-9 advantage in points off.