I. Renko is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Dayton after Tuesday’s play-in game between Saint Mary’s and Middle Tennessee State. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
Three Key Takeaways:
- Same as They Ever Were — Despite manning the mid-major beat for RTC, I’ve spent a good part of the season overlooking Saint Mary’s in favor of newer, fresher flavors of the month… like Middle Tennessee State. For much of the year, the Gaels’ schedule (three games against the number one team in the country plus a litany of wins over a litany of unaccomplished teams) provided little clarity on their quality. Only when they toppled Creighton in the Bracketbuster game did I really sit up and notice. And tonight, they made clear that I should’ve been paying attention all along. It was an impressive performance, and one that the Gaels may well repeat against Memphis in a couple days.
- Beating MTSU At Its Own Game — Through the first 10 minutes, it looked like MTSU would have the edge, as they imposed their bruising, physical style of play on Saint Mary’s. But the Gaels adapted, ultimately beating Middle Tennessee at its own game. They clamped down on defense and patiently exploited opportunities on offense. Saint Mary’s seemed to gain a certain confidence after the initial adjustment period. They closed the first half with an 11-2 run, taking a 29-20 lead into the break. They went on to a relatively comfortable win, never leading by fewer than three points in the second half.
- There Were No Easy Points for the Blue Raiders — Through the first 25 minutes of the game, MTSU had taken just two free throws and scored just two points in transition. These are deadly numbers for a team struggling to score in the rhythm of the half-court offense. The Blue Raiders managed to bolster their transition game later in the second half, adding seven more points on the break, but they remained unable to get to the free throw line, ending the game with just seven free throw attempts. MTSU typically scores more than 22 percent of its points from the charity stripe, but tonight, they scored just 11 percent of their points from the line.
Star of the Game: Matthew Dellavedova is the centerpiece of the Gaels’ offense in a way that few NCAA Tournament-quality point guards are. That brings a tremendous amount of pressure, particularly when facing a team with a cadre of physical, defensive-minded guards. But the Aussie veteran took it all in stride, never getting rattled even when his teammates seemed to be early in the game. His calm and composure set the tone for the Gaels, and his abilities as a ball-handler, scorer, and passer fueled their offense. Dellavedova finished with 22 points on 7-of-14 shooting (including 5-of-7 from 3-point range, breaking a 1-of-18 shooting slump), six rebounds, and four assists. And that doesn’t count all the other baskets he created with his penetration, where his pass led to the assist that led to the score.