DAYTON, Ohio — Matthew Dellavedova scored 22 points on Tuesday night, and Saint Mary's got a good start on its second straight NCAA tournament appearance, beating Middle Tennessee 67-54 in the First Four.
The Gaels (28-6) make a quick trip to Auburn Hills, Mich., to play sixth-seeded Memphis on Thursday.
Saint Mary's is making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in its history. The Gaels reached the round of 16 in 2010 before losing to Baylor. Not so good last year, when they dropped their opening game to Purdue 72-69.
With four starters back and Dellavedova, the school's career scoring leader, handling the ball and making the biggest shots, the Gaels were too much for Middle Tennessee (28-6), which was making its first NCAA tournament appearance in 24 years.
Credit Dellavedova for making a difference, as he has all season. The point guard went 7 of 14 from the field, including 5 of 7 behind the arc, and had four assists and six rebounds.
Tweety Knight led Middle Tennessee with 16 points. The Blue Raiders went only 4 of 12 from behind the arc, hitting one fewer 3-pointer than Dellavedova.
With those four starters back, Saint Mary's is looking for one of its best finishes yet. The Gaels did pretty much what they wanted all season long, except for one thing: Beating rival Gonzaga. Saint Mary's lost only three times in its last 22 games, all three times to the Bulldogs.
Fortunately for the Gaels, they put a lot of space between themselves and the Zags this week. No. 1 Gonzaga snagged the top seed in the West Regional and is playing in Salt Lake City. The Gaels get to stay in the Midwest for a while.
Middle Tennessee counted it a breakthrough just to be playing in the First Four — the Blue Raiders hadn't been there since 1989.
They won the Sun Belt's regular-season title and were expected to win the tournament and their league's automatic bid, but were upset in the semifinals, ending a 17-game winning streak. They had to sweat out a few days before finding out that the NCAA selection committee picked them over defending champion Kentucky and other basketball blue bloods for an at-large bid.
One main reason: Consistency, especially on the road. The Blue Raiders didn't lose two games in a row all season until their last two tournament games.
Dellavedova had made only one of his last 18 shots from behind the arc heading into the game, but found his mark early. He had a pair of 3s as well as a steal and a layup, helping Saint Mary's pull ahead 13-9. After his second 3-pointer fell, Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis called a timeout to get the Blue Raiders reset on defense.
Couldn't stop Dellavedova for long. He hit a floater in the lane, passed to Brad Waldow for a dunk, then drew a foul and made a pair of free throws during an 11-2 run that closed the first half and gave Saint Mary's a 29-20 lead.
The Blue Raiders repeatedly missed close-up shots and managed only two free throws in the final 6 minutes, shooting 32 percent from the field overall in the half.
NC A&T 73, Liberty 72
At Dayton, Ohio, Jeremy Underwood came off the bench to score 19 points, leading North Carolina A&T past 21-loss Liberty at the First Four, ending an NCAA winless streak at nine games.
The Flames — only the second team ever to make the NCAA tournament with 20 losses — had a chance to win it. John Caleb Sanders drove coast to coast and flipped up a left-handed layup in heavy congestion that just missed. A&T (20-16) rebounded and, while Sanders rolled in pain on the baseline, began to celebrate an end to more than 30 years of disappointment.
Underwood came in averaging just over 6 points, but was perfect from the field, hitting six field goals in as many attempts. Bruce Beckford added 16 points and Lamont Middleton 14.
The victory advanced the Aggies to a showdown with top-seeded Louisville (29-5) in Lexington, Ky., Thursday.
Davon Marshall had 22 points and Sanders 21 for Liberty (15-21).
A&T came into the game 0-9 in NCAA tournaments, and hadn't come close to making the elite field since their last trip in 1995.
The Flames were making only their third trip to the NCAA tournament, having lost to No. 1 seed North Carolina 71-51 in 1994 and to top-seeded Saint Joseph's in 2004.
A&T has a glittering, if now faded, legacy. The Aggies made it to the NCAA tournament seven years in a row 1982-88, but had fallen on hard times. They piled up 15 consecutive losing seasons until their late hot streak this year in the conference tournament pushed them above .500.