NCAA FIRST FOUR: North Carolina A&T v Liberty; Saint Mary’s v Mid Tennessee

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DAYTON, Ohio (Sporting Alert) — North Carolina A&T, Liberty, Saint Mary’s and Mid Tennessee will be the first teams in action at the 2013 NCAA basketball tournament.

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The four squads will take the court in the NCAA First Four on Tuesday night at the University of Dayton Arena – vying for two spots from the Midwest Region.

In the night’s first game, Liberty will take on North Carolina A&T at 6:40 pm ET, while Saint Mary’s and Mid Tennessee battle in the second contest, starting at 9:10 pm ET.

Liberty Flames (15-20, 6-10 Big South), are one of the surprised teams making it to this stage in the season after making a very slow start to their campaign, which included an 0-8 start and just one win from the opening 10 games.

But Dale Layer’s team recovered from its 10-20 late record to win the Big South crown, after beating Charleston Southern 87-76 on Sunday.

“That’s awesome,” the head coach said of his Liberty team. “We’ve got the hats, right?”

“When you’re 0-8, a lot of people quit. “Men quit. Grown-ups quit. But our guys just kept coming back.

“I told them in January, `There’s going to be a story in March about somebody — there is every year — that’s a Cinderella story.’ And I said, `Why couldn’t it be us?”

Junior guard Davon Marshall added: “The low point was probably the beginning of the year when we were 0-8.

“Guys started to quit. It was a lot of long days of practice. Guys were down on themselves, thinking about next year.”

North Carolina A&T (19-16, 8-8 MEAC) also went through some tough times during their own regular season, but managed to take four wins in five days, including the 57-54 victory over Morgan State to clinch their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship title since 1995.

“We hadn’t won more than two games in a row all year,” coach Cy Alexander said.

“Fortunately for us, the guys waited until the right time to win three — plus one more.”

The winner will take on top seed Louisville.
Game Line: North Carolina A&t -3, O/U: 126.0

Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s (27-6, 14-2 WCC) will take on Mid Tennessee (28-5, 19-1 Sun Belt) in the night’s other game with both teams confident of picking up the victory.

Mid Tennessee, which held the nation’s longest winning streak end at 17, saw that snapped, following a 61-57 defeat to Florida International Golden in the Sun Belt Conference tournament semifinals Sunday night, but the committee believed the Blue Raiders did enough and challenged themselves well enough this season to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

“The difference between Middle Tennessee and some of the other teams, in our mind, was their ability to win on the road,” said Mike Bobinski, Xavier’s athletics director and head of the selection committee.

“The other teams you talked about really struggled to take their show on the road and win against quality teams, and that probably was the deciding factor.”

Saint Mary’s in the meantime, were beaten by overall No.1 seed Gonzaga in West Coast Conference tournament, losing to their rivals for the third straight time during the season.

Nevertheless, there are no signs in a dent to their confidence and come Monday night, coach Randy Bennett will have his team ready to go.

Line: Saint Mary’s -3, O/U: 132.0