Hail to the Gaels; Saint Mary's tops MTSU to gain Memphis matchup
Dayton, OH – Matthew Dellavedova carried Saint Mary's to a first-round win in the NCAA Tournament Tuesday with a 22-point effort as the Gaels upended Middle Tennessee, 67-54, at University of Dayton Arena.
The meeting pitted questionable at-large teams from smaller conferences as No. 11 seeds, and Dellavedova made sure the Gaels proved they belonged in the Midwest Region's round-of-64. The program's all-time leader in scoring, assists, 3-pointers and games played connected of 5-of-7 from behind the arc and added six rebounds and four assists.
Stephen Holt chipped in 18 points for Saint Mary's (28-6), which advanced to face sixth-seeded Memphis in Auburn Hills, MI on Thursday.
Marcos Knight paced Middle Tennessee (28-6) with 16 points, while Kerry Hammonds and Neiko Hunter each had 10 for the Sun Belt Conference regular season champs.
"The stat of the game was the free throw line. They shot 25 times, and we shot seven," Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis said. "That was kind of the difference in the game."
The Blue Raiders, playing their first NCAA Tournament game since 1989, started out strong and led 16-13 following a Raymond Cintron 3-pointer midway through the first half.
But the next 10 minutes saw Middle Tennessee make just one field goal, and the ensuing 16-4 run gave the West Coast Conference runner-ups a 29-20 lead at intermission.
Following his 12-point half, Dellavedova added two 3-pointers in the first five minutes after the break, the second yielding a 39-28 cushion.
Middle Tennessee, nine days removed from an unlikely loss to Florida International in the SBC Tournament semifinals, answered with a 10-2 run, but that was as close as it got.
Dellavedova, who was 1-of-18 from 3-point range the previous three games, hit another from the perimeter during a 7-0 run that extended the margin to 54-42 with six minutes to play.
"I didn't know...I was 1-for-18 on my last threes," Dellavedova said. "That didn't even enter my head. I've always got confidence the next one's going down."
Soon after, Holt scored eight straight points for the Gaels to help seal their first NCAA tourney win since advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2010.
It was the first time all season Middle Tennessee lost back-to-back games.
Saint Mary's is playing in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in school history. The Gaels lost to Purdue in their opening tournament game last year ... Middle Tennessee was just the second Sun Belt team to earn an at- large bid since 1994 (South Alabama, 2008) ... Beau Levesque scored 13 points for the Gaels, who improved to 4-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament ... Middle Tennessee fell to 2-7 in the event.