DAYTON, Ohio — 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.
“I knew he was going to go to the rim, and I just wanted to play off of him,” A&T defensive star Austin Witter said. “I just tried to keep my hands back, and use my length to alter the shot. I believe I got a little piece of it, but I’m not really sure.
“I think I did just enough to get it off.”
Underwood came in averaging just over 6 points a game, 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.
“It’s been a long time,” first-year Aggies coach Cy Alexander said.
Davon Marshall had 22 points and Sanders 21 for Liberty (15-21).
Saint Mary’s 67, Middle Tennessee 54
Matthew Dellavedova scored 22 points, and Saint Mary’s got a good start on its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Gaels (28-6) get 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.
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.
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.
But they couldn’t stop Dellavedova for long