Saint Mary's guard Matthew Dellavedova had made one 3-pointer in his last 18 attempts entering Tuesday night's First Four game against Middle Tennessee State. The last thing the Blue Raiders wanted was for him to find his stroke at University of Dayton Arena.
However, barely three minutes into the game, Dellavedova made his first 3-point attempt. Less than one minute later, he made his second, setting up a good night for Australian senior and the Gaels.
Dellavedova sank five 3-pointers and scored 22 points, and Stephen Holt added 18 points as Saint Mary's earned a 67-54 victory over Middle Tennessee.
Despite his long-distance shooting struggles the previous three games, Dellavedova never wavered.
"There was no sigh of relief," he said. "I'm always confident that my shots are going down. It never entered my head."
Beau Levesque scored 13 points for Saint Mary's (28-6), which advances to face sixth-seeded Memphis in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday afternoon in Auburn Hills, Mich.
"I've seen them play a couple times this season," Levesque said of Memphis. "They like to get out in transition, but we feel like we can compete with anyone."
Marcos Knight led Middle Tennessee (28-6) with 16 points. Kerry Hammonds and Neiko Hunter each scored 10 for the Blue Raiders, who were making their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 24 years.
Dellavedova beat the shot clock with a 3-pointer to give Saint Mary's a 34-24 lead early in the second half, the Gaels' biggest advantage to that point. His fourth 3-pointer moments later put Saint Mary's ahead by 11.
"He's been struggling," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said of Dellavedova. "I never have to worry about him doing the right things on the court, but we don't win games like this unless he shoots well."
Middle Tennessee went scoreless in the final 4:09 of the first half and trailed 29-20 at halftime, but a 7-0 run midway through the second half helped the Blue Raiders climb back into the game.
"I thought we go off to a good start tonight," MTSU coach Kermit Davis said. "We went into a scoring drought at the end of the first half."
A dunk by Shawn Jones was followed by Hammonds' baseline 3-pointer, which trimmed Middle Tennessee's deficit to five. Knight's layup made the score 41-38 with 12:36 remaining.
"We knew they had physical guards that would come after us," Dellavedova said, "but teams in the West Coast Conference play us physical, too. That helped us."
Saint Mary's answered the Blue Raiders' surge. Dellavedova's fifth 3-pointer put the Gaels ahead by 10 points with fewer than seven minutes left.
"We had a couple of missed assignments early that got him going," Davis said. "Then he made some tough 3s in the second half."
Holt's 3-pointer made the score 57-44.
The game was sluggish and physical in the first half, but 3-point shooting kept the Gaels' offense afloat.
Saint Mary's made four of seven 3-point attempts in the first half, led by Dellavedova, who hit his first two 3-point tries.
"I know it felt good for us to get off to a good start," Levesque said. "Having Dell on his game was definitely big for us."
Holt's 3-pointer gave the Gaels an 18-16 lead. Moments later, Levesque's three-point play gave Saint Mary's four-point lead.
A dunk by Brad Waldow off a lob from Dellavedova gave Saint Mary's a 26-20 lead.
Hunter scored eight first-half points to lead Middle Tennessee, which had just seven free-throw attempts. Saint Mary's, meanwhile, went 17 of 25 from the free-throw line.
"That was the difference," Davis said.
NOTES: Middle Tennessee owned the nation's second-best road record this season at 11-3. The Blue Raiders finished 1-3 at neutral sites and 16-0 at home. ... MTSU hadn't played in the NCAA Tournament since 1989, when it upset Florida State. ... Saint Mary's has reached the postseason seven times in the past nine seasons, including five appearances in the NCAA Tournament and two in the NIT. ... The Gaels are one of four programs to win at least 25 games each of the past six seasons, joining conference rival Gonzaga as well as Duke and Kansas. ... Three of the Gaels' six losses were to No. 1 seed Gonzaga.