* The NCAA Division II East Regional tournament is down to its final pairing with #2 seed Queens and #5 seed Molloy set to contest the crown on Monday night in Garden City, New York. It was a busy and ocasionally dramatic first six games in the regional so let's break it down chronologically, starting with Friday's first round...
* Opening first round play was a slight upset as the University of the Sciences, the #6 seed, bumped off #3 seed and defending regional champion Bentley, 73-66. The Devils earned their first ever NCAA tourney win (and their tenth straight overall) in this one by making the long ball and holding off a late Falcons rally. A trio of triples gave the Devils an early 11-2 lead and they led 17-10 after one frame. Bentley tied the contest at 21 midway through the second quarter but two Colleen Walsh treys (11 points, 3-5 3FG) put Sciences ahead to stay, 27-23. It was a 30-26 game at the half (Sciences was 8-15 from deep during the half and just 1-14 inside the arc) and the Devils stretched the lead to 46-33 with an 11-0 burst (three more triples) in the third frame. Their edge crested at 58-45 (5:31, 3rd quarter) but the Falcons fought back and closed to within 65-62 with 1:03 remaining. The Devils iced the win at the line (8-10 FT in the last 1:02) to prevail and advance. Alex Thomas (23 points, 5-6 3FG), Sarah Abbonizio (19 points, 8 rebounds, 10-13 FT) and Jordan Vitelli (11 points, 6 boards, 2-4 3FG) added to the Devils attack, one that made 12-22 from three-point land (all the triples came in the first three quarters) and dropped in 19-24 at the stripe. Macchi Smith topped the Falcons with 21 points, 9 boards and 5 assists while Jen Gemma tossed in 15 points (and had 9 rebounds) to close her career with 2,151 points, good for 13th on the all-time East Regional scoring list. Lauren Green (13 points) and Amy McConnell (11 points) also registered double digits for the Falcons, who had won 14 of the last 15 regional tournament games.
* #2 seed Queens overcame a slow start to roll over #7 seed Assumption, 69-48, and moved into the second round for the second straight year. Madison Rowland (28 points, 8 boards, 13-23 FG), Merrick Rowland (14 points), Beth Bonin (10 points) and MacKenzie Rowland (7 points, 12 caroms, 5 assists) all played their parts for the Knights, who posted a 17-2 blitz after trailing 10-5 early; the resulting 22-12 lead midway through the second quarter was one they never relinquished. QC led 31-23 at the interval and expanded the edge to 54-29 thanks to a 15-0 run (1:58 of the third frame) which was started and finished by Merrick Rowland three-pointers. At that point Madison Rowland had scored nearly as many points as the Greyhounds (29-28) and the result was no longer in doubt. Kelly Carey (14 points) and Allison Stoddard (11 points) keyed the AC offense but their was no serious response once Queens opened the lead up. The Knights had the upper hand in most stat areas, including shooting (45%-38% FG), turnovers (20-12) and points-off-mistakes (23-10). Assumption hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since 2011 while Queens presented head coach Bet Naumovski with her 100th win at the Knights helm.
* Top seed and host Adelphi suffocated #8 seed NYIT in their matchup, 64-47, banishing memories of a first round loss in the same situation to Holy Family two years ago. Although it took a while to get into gear, the Panthers were able to get a grip on the game in the second quarter, closing the half with a 17-5 jaunt to go ahead at the break, 32-23. The Bears hung in for a while but never came any closer than nine points in the second half and thus fell short of their run to last season's regional final. AU led 50-35 after three periods and eased in thereafter to win their first NCAA tournament game in three years (and only third ever). Sierra Clark (23 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks) was superb for the Panthers with support coming from Calli Balfour (19 points, 9 caroms, 4 steals) and Natalie Fekula (10 rebounds). Margaret Knollmeyer (17 points, 12 boards) and Nina Vukosavljevic (17 points) supplied most of the NYIT offense, accounting for 15 of their 19 field goals. Adelphi out-rebounded the Bears in a big way (46-25) and also shot better (45%-36% FG) to advance to the next round.
* The last game of the round saw #5 seed Molloy eliminate #4 seed Caldwell, 60-52, denying the Cougars a win in their first NCAA tournament appearance. Defense (Caldwell shot 28% from the floor and 2-26 from three-point land) and rebounding (53-43) were key elements to the Lions success with Kamala Thompson (16 points and a career-high 20 rebounds), Aliyah McDonald (14 points, 6 boards) and Symone Kelly (14 points) carrying the attack. Kristen Drogsler (21 points, 16 rebounds) battled well for Caldwell and Kristen Siscamanis (12 points, 6 rebounds) added a strong game off the bench but aside of that pair no other Cougar notched more than five points. Molloy claimed the lead with a 10-2 run over the final nine-plus minutes of the second quarter, going into the half ahead, 22-14. Caldwell enjoyed their best spell right out of the halftime break, riding a 12-3 surge to a 26-25 lead, their last one. The Lions nudged ahead after three periods, 40-35, and stayed there. The gap was just three points (46-43, 4:59) when Molloy got a basket from McDonald and a trey from Thompson to make it 51-43 at the 3:25 mark and they managed the game from there (their last nine points came from the line). The Lions prevailed despite 19 turnovers and a bad game at the line (14-27 3FG) and from deep (4-21 3FG), reaching the round of 32 for the second time in their history. Caldwell ends their season with a program-record 25 wins but missed out on being the first regional rookie to win a game since 2003 (Merrimack) while Molloy continues to build on their most successful season.
* Saturday's regional semifinal round begam with a wire-to-wire Queens win over the University of the Sciences, 77-67. The Knights scored the first ten points of the game and kept the Devils in the rear view mirror all day long. It was a 29-19 halftime tally and a 12-0 third quarter binge made it a 45-28 game with 4:23 to go in the frame. Madison Rowland (22 points, 7 boards, 5 steals) and MacKenzie Rowland (15 points, 13 boards, 6 assists) scored every point in the run (MacKenzie had seven) and the margin grew to 57-38 by the end of the stanza. The Devils did rally, trimming the deficit to six points twice in the final minute (71-65, 73-67) but the Knights closed the door at the stripe. Beth Bonin (25 points, 10-12 FT, 6 rebounds) was the big factor there, making 7-8 at the line in the last minute. Sarah Abbonizio (16 points but just 5-20 FG), Alex Thomas (14 points), Jordan Vitelli (13 points, 7-7 FT) and Laura Trisch (10 points) all chipped in with double digits for the Devils but their three-point production (9-22 3FG) was not as good as usual. QC won the glass (39-39) and used the ball well (17/13 assist/turnover ratio) while ruling the paint (38-22). Madison Rowland, incidentally, moved into 7th place on the all-time East Regional scoring list with 2,332 points (to date). The defeat ends Sciences season with a program-record 27 wins while Queens moves on to the regional final for the first time in their history.
* Kamala Thompson's put-back at the buzzer capped a dramatic win for Molloy over Adelphi, 59-58, in the other regional semifinal tilt. The drama wasn't restricted to the end of the game as the clash was hard-fought all the way. Sierra Clark (24 points, 12 rebounds) scored the first basket of the game for the Panthers but it was their only lead until the final three minutes of the night. The Lions led by as many as ten points (22-12) en route to a 35-26 halftime edge and the third period was mostly even (Molloy led 45-38 at the end). Adelphi, which hadn't lost at home all season (16-0), dug in and fought back, eventually going ahead 54-51 with 2:48 left after a Calli Balfour (12 points, 7 boards) triple. The Lions responded with a 6-2 spell, going back ahead, 57-56, with :31 left on a Symone Kelly (10 points) basket. Clark missed at the other end but Ihnacinse Grady misfired on two free throws at the :19 mark, keeping the door ajar for Adelphi. Clark followed with a second-chance basket with 11.8 seconds left to send the Panthers ahead, 58-57. Molloy's final possession yielded an elbow jumper from Aliyah McDonald (14 points, 9 boards, 10 turnovers), which fell off the iron, but Thompson (10 points, 14 rebounds) collected the carom and scored at the buzzer to give Molloy the victory (after an official's review of the replay). McKayla Hernandez had only her second double digit game of the year (12 points) to add a key piece for the Lions. Simone Hobdy (13 points, 6 rebounds) lent energy to the AU effort but they will rue their subpar foul shooting (14-27 FT) and a 37% effort from the field. Molloy had the edge off the window (42-37) and came up with the keynote play of the regional (thus far) to advance to the regional final for the first time in their history.
* NCAA notes... The Queens-Molloy regional final will pit two East Coast Conference teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time. It also highlights the gains the ECC has made over the last few years, as five different ECC programs have reached the regional final in the last five years, the most of any of the regional loops (the NE-10 has four spots and the CACC the other place)... Joe Pellicane, the Molloy head coach, can become the first coach in East Regional history to win the regional with different institutions, having mentored Dowling to the 2013 NCAA Division II title game... Molloy's win over Adelphi means that, for the first time in the eight-team regional format (fifteen years), a #5 seed will play for the title. #5-seeds had been 0-8 against #1-seeds before this season... In the same timespan, only one #2 seed has ever won the regional crown, New Haven in 2015, ironically also at Adelphi's Center for Recreation and Sport... The Elite Eight, set to start on Tuesday the 21st in Columbus, Ohio, will be the first women's field to be re-seeded after the regionals are complete. Therefore, neither Queens nor Molloy will know who they will face until later in the week.
* Roberts Wesleyan is in the process of trying to defend it's NCCAA Division I national title, which they won last season, and so far they are on track to do so. Redhawks defeated Indiana Wesleyan (75-67 in overtime) and Ohio Christian (68-61) to annex the Midwest regional title and move on to the national quarterfinals. RWC placed all five starters in double digits while getting past Indiana Wesleyan, led by Sara Nady (19 points, 3-5 3FG) and Taya Andrews (16 points, 6 rebounds). The Redhawks trailed at the half (31-25) but a 12-2 burst gave them a 38-33 lead in the third period and the game stayed close. The Wildcats (19-14) took a 63-59 lead with 1:35 left in regulation but Necedah James (10 points, 8 assists) hit a free throw and Nady drilled a trey with :52 left to knot the game at 63 and force overtime. Andrews and Nady (another trey) gave RWC a 68-63 lead to start the extra frame and they never lost it. The game saw seven ties and seven lead changes but none in OT, as RWC scored the last seven points after Indiana Welseyan closed to within a digit. Kelsey Key (17 points, 8 rebounds) and Haley Woodruff (13 points, 15 boards) led the Wildcat effort... RWC held off a late run to dispatch Ohio Christian to earn the regional title with Nady (18 points, 7 assists), Andrews (16 points) and Emily Miller (12 points, 10 boards) leading the way. A 15-1 burst gave the Redhawks a 28-18 edge late in the first half (it was 31-25 at the break) and they posted an 11-0 bomb to start the fourth period to widen the lead to 58-41. The Trailblazers (22-11) fought back and came within 64-61 with 1:38 to play but Nady and James each drilled a pair of free throws to salt it away for RWC. Erinn Bailey (23 points, 13 boards) led the Ohio Christian scoring but as a team they shot just 3-29 from three-point land... Roberts Wesleyan is the #1 seed for the national tournament at Grace College in Indiana, where they will meet #8 seed Crowley's Ridge College in Wednesday's opener.