SPRINGFIELD, MASS. (AP) -John Smith had 22 points and Winona State earned a place in the NCAA Division II championship game for the third straight year, using a second-half surge for an 86-75 victory over previously unbeaten Bentley on Thursday night.
It was the second straight year the Minnesota school ended Bentley's unbeaten season in the round of eight. Winona State will play Augusta State, a 56-50 semifinal winner over Alaska Anchorage, in Saturday's championship game.
Winona State (37-1), which won the 2006 D-II title and lost to Barton in the 2007 championship game, will take a 31-game winning streak into the final.
Bentley (34-1), which had been the last remaining unbeaten Division II team, was bidding to become the first Division II men's national champion from New England since Massachusetts-Lowell in 1988.
Jonte Flowers scored 20 points for the Warriors, Quincy Henderson had 17 and David Johnson 16.
Nate Fritsch led the Falcons with 18 points. Lew Finnegan had 17 and Tom Dowling 15.
Bentley led by as many as nine in the first half, and 36-30 at the break.
But Winona State opened the second half with an 18-11 burst. Flowers' basket gave the Warriors a 48-47 lead with 13:50 left.
Bentley ran off the next seven points, but Winona State answered with nine straight and took the lead for good. Johnson's twisting basket and foul shot gave the Warriors a 59-54 lead, their biggest since scoring the game's first five points.
Bentley guard Tom Dowling's layup with 1:37 remaining cut Winona State's lead to six at 75-69, but Henderson hit a 3-pointer from the left corner with 1:17 left, expanding the Warriors' lead to seven at 78-71.
With 24 seconds left and Bentley trailing 84-74, Falcons coach Jay Lawson took out starters Fristch and Yusuf Abdul-Ali, giving his seniors a final curtain call. Abdul-Ali had 10 points and seven rebounds.
Winona State's only loss was an 83-82 overtime defeat to St. Thomas (Minn.) on Nov. 24.
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