DAYTON, Ohio — Matthew Dellavedova’s first shot from behind the arc was right on target. So was the next one less than a minute later.
Saint Mary’s career scoring leader had finally found his touch at tournament time.
Dellavedova emerged from a deep shooting slump by scoring 22 points on Tuesday night, and the Gaels got off to a good start in their second straight NCAA tournament appearance, beating Middle Tennessee 67-54 in the First Four.
Saint Mary’s (28-6) makes a quick trip to Auburn Hills, Mich., to play sixth-seeded Memphis on Thursday.
And the Gaels can thank their point guard, who is back in the flow. He’d been only 1 of 18 from behind the arc coming into the game, though no one would know it by the way that first one went in.
“There was no sigh of relief,” Dellavedova said. “Somebody had told me that I was 1 for 18 in my last three (games). That didn’t even enter my head. I’ve always got confidence the next one’s going down.”
Saint Mary’s, a No. 11 seed, is making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the first time in its history. The Gaels were a 10th seed when they 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 as a No. 7 seed.
With four starters back and Dellavedova 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.
“When he does that, he may be the best point guard in college basketball, when he shoots the ball like that,” Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis said.
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.
A&T Aggies finally win an NCAA game, 73-72
Jeremy Underwood came off the bench to score 19 points, leading North Carolina A&T past 21-loss Liberty 73-72 on Tuesday 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.
With the Aggies holding onto a 42-39 lead early in the second half, the teams put on an offensive display that got the capacity crowd into the game.
Liberty scored on five consecutive possessions, making all five shots from the field, while A&T countered by hitting four shots in a row. The last bucket in the sequence, Marshall’s 3 from the right side, narrowed the gap to 52-51.
After Jean Louisme ended both streaks — missing a shot and then stealing the ball at the other end — Austin Witter hit a rebound follow.
The pace slowed considerably, more to A&T’s liking. Underwood made two shots then drove the lane and hit a lefty layin. Seconds later, Adrian Powell swished a 3 from the left corner and the lead was suddenly back to 10 at 61-51.