DAYTON, Ohio — Matthew Dellavedova scored 22 points on Tuesday night, and St. 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.
St. 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, St. 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.
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 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).