North Carolina A&T 73, Liberty 72

Jeff Wallner, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

DAYTON -- Jeremy Underwood scored 19 points and Bruce Beckford added 16 helping North Carolina A&T end Liberty's improbable NCAA Tournament trip with a 73-72 victory in Tuesday's opening game of the First Four played at the University of Dayton Arena.
The Aggies advance to face No. 1 overall seed Louisville on Thursday in the second round at 6:50 p.m. at Lexington's Rupp Arena.
Davon Marshall led Liberty with 22 points, and John Caleb Sanders added 21 for the Flames (15-21) but missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.
Lamont Middleton added 14 points for North Carolina A&T (19-16) which recorded its first NCAA Tournament victory.
The teams made a combined 11 3-pointers in the first half. Liberty trailed by seven points at halftime, but a 7-2 run to begin the second half got the Flames back into the game.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Marshall cut NC A&T's lead to 52-51.
Both team got off to a blistering start to the second half, combining for 20 points in the first six minutes and 13 seconds.
Adrian Powell's 3-pointer completed a 9-0 run putting NC A&T ahead 61-51. But the pesky Flames wouldn't go away. Marshall's 3-pointer got them within three points with 1:32 left.
Powell missed the front end of a one-one and Speaks scored to make the score 73-72. A near turnover by the Aggies resulted in a jump ball. NC A&T was awarded possession.
Middleton was fouled with seven seconds left and missed his first free throw. Sanders raced down court but missed a tough layup attempt.
Liberty didn't resemble a 20-loss team early in Tuesday's game. The Flames hit six of their first eight shots including a pair of 3-pointers. Speaks' layup put them ahead 14-8.
But the Aggies began the game 3 of 6 from 3-point range, including one from Underwood which tied the score 16-16.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Sanders put Liberty ahead 22-20. There were six lead changes and three ties in the first half until a 10-0 run by the Aggies capped by Underwood's second 3-pointer put them ahead by eight points.
NC A&T led by as many as 11 points in the first half. But consecutive 3-pointers by Marshall cut the Flames' deficit to 36-31.
Beckford scored 12 points for the Aggies, who led 40-33 at halftime.
Notes: Liberty, which began the season with eight straight defeats, entered Tuesday's game with 20 losses, tying for most for in NCAA Tournament history with Coppin State (16-20) in 2008. ... The Flames are the 22nd team in NCAA Tournament history to have a losing record. ... North Carolina A&T made its 10th NCAA Tournament appearance, going 0-9 in its previous appearances. ... Cy Alexander is the third first-year coach to lead the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament.