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March 20, 2013

Tourney begins in Dayton with a classic

DAYTON, Ohio — After more than 30 years of trying, North Carolina A&T finally has an NCAA win.

To do it, the Aggies had to survive one last, harrowing, close call.

Substitute guard Jeremy Underwood tripled his average with 19 points, leading the Aggies (20-16) past resilient Liberty 73-72 on Tuesday at the First Four to win their first NCAA tournament game after nine losses.

The victory advanced the Aggies to a showdown with top-seeded Louisville (29-5) in Lexington, Ky., Thursday.

“It’s been a long time,” first-year Aggies coach Cy Alexander said.

It could have been pushed back even longer. The Flames (15-21) — only the second team ever to make the NCAA tournament with 20 losses — had a chance to win it in the final seconds.

John Caleb Sanders drove coast to coast and flipped up a left-handed layup in heavy congestion that just glanced off the glass.

“I knew he was going to go to the rim, and I just wanted to play off of him,” A&T defensive star Austin Witter said. “I just tried to keep my hands back, and use my length to alter the shot. I believe I got a little piece of it, but I’m not really sure.

“I think I did just enough to get it off.”

Sanders was trying to draw a foul as much as make the frantic shot.

“We’ve had a lot of late-game situations similar to that, and Coach (Dale Layer) has always said to take it to the rim,” Sanders said. “They took away my right hand, so I went left and tried to get to the basket, and it just didn’t fall for me.”

Asked if he was fouled on the play, he hesitated and then said, “I don’t know. It’s hard to tell when you’re in the midst of a game. They didn’t call it. So it wasn’t a foul.”

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