JOE BIDDLE: Blue Raiders have short stay in Dayton - WKRN News 2

JOE BIDDLE: Blue Raiders have short stay in Dayton

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DAYTON, Ohio -

The formula for NCAA Tournament basketball teams is simple. If you don't come to play, you don't stay.

Saint Mary's senior guard Matthew Dellavedova had a really g'day, mate. He came to play. It was his third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years.

MTSU paid the price, losing, 67-54, in a play-in game Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
 
The 6-4, 190-pound Australian was a one-man wrecking crew, making Middle Tennessee State's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1989 one to forget.

One of four Aussies on the Saint Mary's squad, MTSU had no answer for Dellavedova, one of the most complete players the Blue Raiders have seen this season.

He finished with 22 points on seven of 14 shooting from the field. The senior rounded out his stat sheet with six rebounds and four assists.

The youngest member of the Australian Olympics team in last year's London Games, Dellavedova had matched up against NBA stars Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant. It was no surprise that he had a field day against MTSU.

Dellavedova's 3-point shot gave the Gaels a 52-42 lead, as he hit five of his first six 3-point attempts. They went up by 12 points with just under six minutes to play.

MTSU had picked up the pace offensively after trailing, 28-19 at the half and it temporarily paid off. Kerry Hammonds Jr. knocked down a pair of 3's to spark a 10-2 run that pulled the Blue Raiders to within 41-38. It was as close as they would come.

Coach Kermit Davis chose to start the second half with a 1-3-1 zone and mixed in some man-to-man as the Blue Raiders had nothing to lose in the final 20 minutes.

Their offense struggled in the first half, getting only one field goal in the final 9:30 of the opening half, as Saint Mary's had a 11-2 run after the game was tied 18-18. MTSU was only 1 of 10 from the field leading up to halftime.

"We were so unphysical offensively,'' Davis said at intermission. "They were more physical.''

It was a bitter loss for the Blue Raiders, whose team won 28 games this season in winning the Sun Belt regular season. Failing to win their conference tournament, some critics said the Blue Raiders didn't deserve an at-large bid and they didn't do anything Tuesday night to answer those charges.

MTSU's offense never got into a rhythm, never played at the fast pace it prefers. Give the Gaels some credit there. With Dellavedova controlling the tempo of the game, his team took control in the first half and never let off the gas.

If they had won, the Blue Raiders would have played Memphis Thursday in Auburn Hills, Mich. It would have made an in-state match-up, but it will be the Gaels taking on the Tigers.

The best team on Tuesday night won. Hands down. Coach Randy Bennett's team will give opponents problems even if they are not a household name east of the Mississippi River.

It is a team that Middle Tennessee State won't forget for a long time. It was a bitter end to a record breaking season.

Concact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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