DAYTON, Ohio — After more than 30 years of trying, North Carolina A&T finally has an NCAA Tournament win.
The Aggies had to survive one last harrowing close call to do it.
Substitute guard Jeremy Underwood tripled his average with 19 points, leading the Aggies (20-16) past resilient Liberty 73-72 on Tuesday in the first round to win their first NCAA game after nine losses.
The 16th-seeded Aggies advanced to a showdown with top-seeded Louisville (29-5) in Lexington, Ky., on Thursday. "It's been a long time," first-year Aggies coach Cy Alexander said.
The win could have been pushed back even longer. The Flames (15-21) — the second team to make the NCAA Tournament with 20 losses — had a chance to win in the final seconds.
John Caleb Sanders drove coast to coast and flipped up a left-handed layup in heavy congestion that glanced off the glass.
"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."
Sanders was trying to draw a foul as much as make the frantic shot.
"We've had a lot of late-game situations similar to that, and Coach (Dale Layer, a former Eckerd assistant) has always said to take it to the rim," Sanders said. "They took away my right hand, so I went left and tried to get to the basket, and it just didn't fall for me."
Asked if he was fouled, he hesitated, then said, "I don't know. It's hard to tell when you're in the midst of a game. They didn't call it. So it wasn't a foul."
ST. MARY'S (CALIF.) 67, MID. TENN. 54: Matthew Dellavedova had 22 points for the 11th-seeded Gaels (28-6), who got a good start in Dayton in their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance and head to Auburn Hills, Mich., to play sixth-seeded Memphis on Thursday.
St. Mary's is making back-to-back NCAA appearances for the first time. Last year the Gaels 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 the Blue Raiders (28-6), making their first NCAA appearance in 24 years.