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.
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