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Blue Raiders fall to Saint Mary's in NCAAs, 67-54

Knight leads way with 16 points

March 19, 2013 · @MTAthletics

DAYTON, OH - In its first appearance in 24 years, Middle Tennessee fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Tuesday night to Saint Mary's, 67-54 before a crowd of 12,027 at Dayton Arena. The Blue Raiders, regular season champions of the Sun Belt Conference, finished the year with a 28-6 record.

The Blue Raiders were making their seventh appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 1989.

Marcos Knight led three Blue Raiders in double figures with 16 points, while Kerry Hammonds and Neiko Hunter added 10 each. Knight also added six assists and six rebounds to go with his 27th double figure scoring game of the year.

As a team, the Blue Raiders struggled shooting the basketball by making just 22 of 52 attempts for 42 percent and had a hard time getting to the free throw line. Saint Mary's attempted 25 free ones to 7 by the Blue Raiders. It went down as the fewest attempts by Middle Tennessee all season and the Raiders' 54 points was their fewest since registering just 45 against Florida back on Nov. 18.

After a back-and-forth first half, the Blue Raiders went cold from the field as Saint Mary's ended the first stanza on an 11-2 run to take a 29-20 lead into the locker room. MT shot just 32 percent from the field while the Gaels owned a 10-2 advantage in points off turnovers.

The Blue Raiders came out of the locker room a different team offensively. After trading baskets, MT went on a 7-0 run to trim the Gaels' lead to 41-38 at the 12:36 mark. A Kerry Hammonds three keyed the run.

The Gaels answered right back to go on a 13-4 run to grab its biggest lead of the night, 54-42, with 5:48 to play. The Blue Raiders would not threaten again as the Gaels advanced to the second round to face Memphis.

NOTES: Marco Knight had his 27th double figure scoring game of the season and Neiko Hunter notched his 10th ... Knight was one shy of his career-high in assists as he tallied a team-best six ... Neiko Hunter started the second half ... MT had 14 assists on its 22 field goals ... The Blue Raiders had only nine turnovers and their season-low this year was seven.

PHOTOS
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COACH DAVIS: I thought we got off to a good start. We went through a scoring drought in the first half. About six or seven minutes, Marcos got in foul trouble.
Dellavedova has really been struggling shooting the ball. We thought two things. He's 1 for 18 from 3 coming into the night. We got him going. We missed a couple of assignments early and kind of got his head up, then he made two or three really tough 3s in the first half.
We thought we had to turn him over. We only turned him over seven times. We had 14 assists, 9 turnovers. The whole stat in the game was the free throw line. They shot 25 times, and we shot seven. That was kind of the difference in the game.

Q. Bruce, just talk about the game plan on trying to stop Dellavedova, and it just seemed like you guys tried a lot of different things, but every time he got loose, he was able to convert there.
BRUCE MASSEY, JR.: We just wanted to slow him down, limit his possessions and looks at the basket. Like Coach said, he was struggling shooting the ball coming into the game, but he got going early.
I think he hit his first 3 he took, and then he got another one, and then a transition layup, and after that he started hitting tough shots and got going early.

Q. Marcos, it seemed like the first half you guys started slow, only 20 points. Was it nerves? What was it out there?
MARCOS KNIGHT: I think we got a lot of good possessions. We've just got to finish the ball at the rim. The second half we did finish better. Second half. Early in the game, we just couldn't finish balls at the rim.
We got great shots. I don't think it was nerves at all.

Q. Marcos, let's talk about that late run there. They had a 10 point lead, I believe, and you guys kept going. Got a layup, cut it down to 3 there. Just talk about how you seemed to have the momentum there, forcing him to call a 30 second time out.
MARCOS KNIGHT: It started with our defense. We play a great defense. We got out in transition and cut it to three, and they called a time out. We ran a set play, but we didn't execute it well.
You know, our defense leads our offense. That's a great point that you made about getting out in transition and how we had to make them call a 30 second time out.

Q. Marcos, I think you were one of the guys that also defended Matthew there. Just talk about how tough he is to defend because he doesn't he seems to find ways to get shots off.
MARCOS KNIGHT: He's a great player. Like Bruce and Coach Davis say, coming into the game, he was struggling. He was 1 for 18 from the 3 point line. But we try a lot of combinations on him. At the end of the day, he just made great plays.

Q. Bruce, can you just talk about this two year run that you guys did. Obviously, to get here this year. Just talk about what it means to leave this year.
BRUCE MASSEY, JR.: It's been a great two years. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I wish it ended differently, but we broke the drought for MTSU going to the NCAA Tournament in 20 plus years, so you hang your hat on that.
After a tough loss like this, you don't forget what you did the last two years for the program. We help MTSU get back on the rise, and hopefully it continues to make further steps into the future.
THE MODERATOR: Marcos and Bruce, thank you for your time. Congratulations on your season.
We'll open the floor for questions for Coach Davis at this time.

Q. Coach, I asked the players about Dellavedova. Talk about some of the things you tried to do to slow him down.
COACH DAVIS: Well, we hard hedged ball screens. We trapped him at times. We were going to 1 3 1 him and trap him and take the ball out of his hands.
I thought in the second half we got him tired, and then he responded better. So he just he shoots the ball like that. He's big, strong, and he still can run a team, but he hadn't made plays like that from the perimeter.
When he does that, he may be the best point guard in college basketball. When he shoots it like that from 1 for 18 to 5 for 7 from 3 is a big difference.

Q. Just further on Dellavedova, for a lot of the country that's not familiar with him, can you just put into context what caliber a point guard you think he is?
COACH DAVIS: I just think there's no question he'll make some NBA team. Wouldn't you love to have him as your 11th or 12th man on an NBA squad. He's strong. He's physical.
They'll pick apart some things he can't do. He's got quicker feet than you think. The NBA is full of ball screens, and he uses his best judgment on ball screens. The whole thing is can he shoot it? If he shoots it like he shot tonight, he'll make a team.
You just sit over there and watch him play. I know Randy's got to love that. He just puts guys at different spots. He sees it as good as anybody.

Q. Coach, can you just talk about that late run when you really needed a spark there to get a little run there. Cut to the 3 on Marcos' layup there off a steal from Tweety. Things are going well. Talk about that run there and just couldn't keep it going.
COACH DAVIS: We defended. We got in transition. We needed to get in transition. That's where our team's at its strength. We turned them over, rebound the ball.
Then we had the ball up 3 excuse me. Down 3, and Trantell (Tweety Knight) got on the side real close to the backboard and kind of forced up a shot, and they went down and scored. After he got about 7, we could never get the game back.
I was proud of our guys. They competed hard, played their tail off. Saint Mary's played good tonight, but like I said, you look at all the stats. 17 for 25. We were 6 for 7. That was kind of just they got to the line better than we did.

Q. Coach, last two years, something to remember, 27 wins last year, 20 this year. Just put in context what it's meant to see what this team's done the last two years.
COACH DAVIS: It's just I'm so proud of our players. I'm happy for our fan base, and Dr. McPhee, our president, Chris, our AD. It's just been fun to watch. It's been fun to see Blue Raider basketball and the program grow.
The national attention we've kind of gotten, the MT brand the last two years is fantastic. Those six seniors will be sorely missed, but we've got a top 25 recruiting class coming in and a good number of players coming back. So we feel really good about the future.

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