After Matthew Dellavedova’s 2nd straight 3-point shot was right on target, Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis called a timeout to reset his defense.
Didn’t matter. Saint Mary’s Gaels career scoring leader had regained his touch, and nothing was going to stop him.
Dellavedova emerged from a deep shooting slump by scoring 22 points, and the Gaels raced to a fast start in their 2nd straight NCAA tournament appearance, beating Middle Tennessee 67-54 in the First Four.
The Saint Mary’s Gaels (28-6) make a quick trip to Auburn Hills, Mich, to play 6th-seeded Memphis on Thursday.
And Saint Mary’s can thank their point guard, who is back in the flow. He’d been just one of 18 from behind the arc coming into the game, though nobody would know it by the way that first one went in.
Credit Dellavedova for having an effect, as he has all season. The point guard went 7 of 14 from the field, including 5 of 7 behind the arc, and had 4 assists and 6 rebounds.
”When he does that, he might be the best point guard in college basketball, when he shoots the ball like that,” Davis claimed.
Blue Raiders (28-6) had a little to show for its first NCAA tournament appearance in 24 years. 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.
”I wish it finished differently, but we broke the drought for MTSU going to the NCAA tournament in 20-plus years, so you hang your hat on that,” guard Bruce Massey Jr. Declared.
Saint Mary’s is making back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances for the 1st 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.
Both teams were No. 11 seeds on Tuesday night. With 4 starters back and Dellavedova, the school’s career scoring leader, handling the ball and making the largest shots, the Gaels were too much.
With that type of experience, Saint Mary’s is looking for one of its best finishes yet. The Gaels did pretty much what they wanted all season long, apart from one thing: Beating rival Gonzaga. Saint Mary’s lost only 3 times in its last 22 games, all 3 times to the Bulldogs.
Middle Tennessee counted it a discovery solely to be playing in the First 4 – 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 automated bid, but were upset in the semifinals, ending a 17-game lucky run. They had to sweat out one or two 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 did not lose 2 games in a row all season until their last 2 tournament games. Sports scores