Instead of calling it a preliminary round, the NCAA prefers to give first round status to the first four games between teams that wouldn’t have made it in on the previous format. Still, that’s the way the world of College Basketball is moving, and North Carolina A&T, along with Saint Mary’s, made the most of the situation by winning the opening two games of the NCAA tournament.
For the Aggies, out of Greensboro, North Carolina, it’s the first appearance in the tournament since 1995, putting them as the 16th seed against Louisville, the number one ranked team in the entire nation according to the selection process. They still don’t have tournament win, although the history books will say that their 73-72 dramatic win over Liberty is their first in over 30 years.
The Aggies finished with an 8-8 record in the MEAC, but won the conference tourney with wins over favorites North Carolina Central and Morgan State. They were led in the game by Jeremy Underwood, coming off the bench to play 29 minutes and score 19 points, aided by Bruce Beckford with 16 points and Lamont Middleton with 14 points. It was an extremely special and surprising game from Underwood, going 6-6 from the field, the most field goals he’s ever scored in his career, and the first time he shot 100% from the field.
Interesting fact – The 1st NCAA Tournament play-in game last season was also determined by 1 point when Western Kentucky beat Miss. Valley State 59-58.
In the second game of the evening, played in University of Dayton Arena, Saint Mary’s, a team quite a few thought wouldn’t need to be part of the first four, beat Middle Tennessee 67-54. It’s the Gaels fifth appearance in the tournament since Randy Bennett, into his 10th year with the team, took over the job, even reaching the Sweet Sixteen in 2010.
The Gaels finished second in the WCC behind Gonzaga with a 14-2 record, losing to the Bulldogs in the tournament final as well, being the only WCC team they’ve lost to this season. Against the Blue Raiders, they didn’t have too many problems, led by Matthew Dellavedova, who scored 22 points, on a special 5-7 night from beyond the arc, as the senior is hoping that facing Memphis in the second round (#11 vs #6) won’t be his last game as a college basketball player.