NCAA TOURNAMENT: #11 Women's Basketball Surges Past Southern Conn. State, 70-45

Martin scored 12 of her game-high 16 points in the first half to lead the Skyhawks to a first round win. (PHOTO BY Lewis Glass/SportsPix)

Martin and Diabate lead Skyhawks to 16th-straight home win as NCAA Tournament returns to Merkert Gym for first time since 1995

EASTON, Mass. (March 9, 2018) – Top-seeded Stonehill College, ranked No. 11 in both the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Division II poll and the D2SIDA Top 25 Media poll, turned in a strong defensive effort to post a 70-45 victory over 8th-seeded Southern Connecticut State University in first round action of the 2018 NCAA Division II East Regional at Merkert Gymnasium tonight.

Stonehill (27-3, 20-1 NE10) advances to face the winner of tonight's final first round matchup between No. 4 Saint Thomas Aquinas College (26-4, 16-2 ECC) and No. 5 Caldwell University (24-6, 16-3 CACC) tomorrow night at Merkert Gym at 7:30 p.m. Southern Connecticut State sees its season come to a close with a 21-10 record overall, including 14-6 in the NE10 to win the Conference's Southwest Division title and earn the program's seventh NCAA Tournament bid.

Diabate scored a season-high 13 points for the Skyhawks off the bench. (PHOTO BY Lewis Glass/SportsPix)

Senior guard Kelly Martin (Scituate, Massachusetts/Scituate) led Stonehill with a game-high 16 points, including 12 in the first half, on 7-of-17 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point distance, with nine rebounds and four assists. Junior Maty Diabate (Holden, Massachusetts/Wachusett Regional) came off the bench to contribute a season-high 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting, and six rebounds in 17 minutes. Senior Samantha Hyslip (Westford, Massachusetts/Westford Academy) added nine points, nine rebounds and two assists for the Skyhawks, while classmate Courtney Walsh (Windham, New Hampshire/Central Catholic) chipped in nine points, four assists and three boards.

Sophomore Kiana Steinauer (Oakville, Ontario/St. Ignatius of Loyola) was the lone Southern Connecticut State player in double-figures, posting a double-double effort with 12 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 6-for-14 from the floor, to go with five steals and two blocked shots. Senior Abby Hurlbert (Thomaston, Connecticut/Thomaston) added eight points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, while junior Amanda Pfohl (Trumbull, Connecticut/Trumbull) and sophomore Imani Wheeler (Dumfries, Virginia/Potomac) each chipped in eight points for the Owls.

Stonehill limited Southern Connecticut to 27.5-percent shooting, including 3-for-15 (20%) in the second quarter to open a 32-18 halftime lead. Southern's 45 points mark the third-lowest total by a Skyhawks opponent this season. Stonehill, meanwhile, was shooting 47.3-percent (26-for-55) from the field, including 16-for-30 (53.3%) over the middle two quarters.

Stonehill carried a one point lead (13-12) into the second quarter and then scored the first 11 points of the frame to open a double-digit lead for the first time (24-12) after seven-straight points from Martin, capped by a three-pointer with 5:07 remaining before halftime. The teams traded baskets over the remainder of the half, with Diabate sending the Skyhawks into the intermission with a 14-point advantage (32-18) with a layup with 13-seconds left.

Stonehill's lead wouldn't dip inside double figures the rest of the way, as the Skyhawks stretched the advantage to 18 (41-23) after a three-pointer from sophomore Kelsey Shaw (Bar Harbor, Maine/Mount Desert Island) with 6:08 to play in the third. Stonehill scored nine-straight points over a minute and a half, sparked by a four-point play by Walsh and capped by a Martin triple, to grab a 23-point lead (50-27) with 3:10 left in the third.

Southern wrapped a 9-0 run around the third quarter break to pull back within 14 (50-36) after a Steinauer layup 23-seconds into the fourth quarter. The Owls would get no closer, with Stonehill sealing its 18th win over its last 19 with a 10-0 run over a three-minute span in the fourth to open a 26-point lead (68-42) after two free-throws by freshman Jennifer Worden (Abington, Massachusetts/Abington) with 2:31 left.

In Friday's other first round games, third-seeded University of the Sciences in Philadelphia (29-3, 17-2 CACC) held off several charges from sixth-seeded LIU Post (22-8, 17-1 ECC) to advance to Saturday's second round with a 61-50 victory. The Devils were led by 21 points from sophomore Jordan Vitelli (Warrington, Pennsylvania/Central Bucks South) on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-for-6 from three-point distance, while converting all four free-throws to go with four rebounds and two steals.

USciences will battle No. 2-seeded Bentley University (28-3, 18-3 NE10), who rallied from a six-point second half deficit to claim a 71-66 victory over No. 7 Jefferson University (26-6, 16-3 CACC). Junior Victoria Lux (Arundel, Maine/Thornton Academy) posted a double-double for the Falcons with 20 points and 12 rebounds.

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