Middle Tennessee State picked a bad time to lose back-to-back games for the first time all season.
In the battle of No. 11 seeds with strong backcourts, St. Mary’s prevailed and ended the Blue Raiders’ season. MTSU sputtered offensively and played catch-up most of the night in a 67-54 loss on Tuesday in a First Four matchup in Dayton, Ohio.
The Blue Raiders owned the nation’s longest winning streak before they fell in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament more than a week ago. But with an RPI of 29 and a school-record 28 wins, they received an at-large bid to play in their first NCAA Tournament since 1989.
The appearance was short-lived.
MTSU (28-6) dug itself an early hole and didn’t have answer for St. Mary’s guards. Matthew Dellavedova scored 22 points and made five 3-pointers and Stephen Holt added 18 for the Gaels (28-6).
The Blue Raiders ledby five points early. Raymond Cintron’s 3-pointer in the corner with 9:59 left in the first half gave MTSU its final lead, 16-13. St. Mary’s went on a 16-4 run and had a 29-20 halftime lead. The Blue Raiders made just one field goal in the final 10 minutes of the half.
The Gaels pushed the lead to 11 on a long Dellavedova 3-pointer with 15:39 remaining but MTSU made one final run. Kerry Hammonds made two 3-pointers, Shawn Jones finished off a dunk and Marcos Knight scored on a layup after a steal by his brother, Tweety.
The elder Knight’s transition basket cut the lead to 41-38 with 4:39 left but the Blue Raiders wouldn’t get any closer. They missed a chance to pull within one when Tweety Knight’s jumper missed. St. Mary’s scored the next four straight points.
A 3-pointer by Holt with 4:22 left stretched the advantage to 57-44 and all but ended MTSU’s comeback attempt.
The Blue Raiders shot 42.3 percent but could never get into an offensive rhythm. They failed to create opportunities in transition and forced just seven turnovers. St. Mary’s made eight of 14 3-pointers and outrebounded MTSU 33-28.
Marcos Knight ended his career with 16 points and six assists. Juniors Kerry Hammonds and Neiko Hunter each scored 10 points.