Two years ago the University of Dayton Arena made history, last year it witnessed it and tonight the place will welcome it with the arrival of Liberty University.
The Big South Conference champion Flames, at 15-20, are just the second team with 20 or more losses to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, and they will kick off the 2013 event at 6:40 p.m. in a First Four game against North Carolina A&T.
“I told them in January ‘there’s going to be a story in March of somebody — there is every year — of the Cinderella story or the feel-good story of March,” Liberty coach Dale Layer said. “And I said, ‘Why couldn’t it be us?’ ”
Liberty was able to come back from an 0-8 start to make it to UD Arena, where comeback history was made last year when BYU overcame the biggest deficit in NCAA tourney history, rallying from 25 down to beat Iona 78-72 in a First Four game.
UD Arena passed Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City two years ago as the venue to host the most NCAA Tournament games, and it will go down as the place where either Liberty or North Carolina A&T recorded the first NCAA Tournament victory in program history.
The Flames are 0-2, while the Aggies, who are making their first appearance since 1995, are 0-9.
“It would be huge,” first-year North Carolina A&T coach Cy Alexander said. “It gives us an opportunity to play probably the nation’s No. 1 team (Indiana). It would be great for the program, and obviously we’re looking forward to seeing if we can make it happen.”
The Aggies didn’t win more than two games in a row before streaking through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, where senior forward Adrian Powell was named MVP. Powell averages 12.5 points per game.
Liberty is led by junior guards Davon Marshall and John Caleb Sanders. Marshall averages 13.4 ppg and needs just two more 3-pointers to break Seth Curry’s program record of 102, while Sanders scores 14.1 ppg.
There is no guarantee of history in the nightcap between St. Mary’s and Middle Tennessee State, as both programs have previous wins in the NCAA Tournament.
But the Blue Raiders, who received at at-large bid out of the Sun Belt Conference, are looking to advance for the first time since 1989 when they staged a first-round upset of Florida State. MTSU is 2-6 overall and has not been back to the tournament since that ’89 season.
“I wanted it for our players so bad, and I wanted it for our fans,” said MTSU coach Kermit Davis, who is in his 11th season at the school. “We’d done so many good things at Middle Tennessee basketball, but it’s one thing we hadn’t done.”
Senior guard Marcos Knight leads the Blue Raiders in scoring (12.5 ppg) and rebounding (5.8 rpg).
St. Mary’s, which received an at-large bid out of the West Coast Conference, is 3-7 in NCAA Tournament games and is making its third appearance since 2010, when the Gaels reached the Sweet 16.
The team traveled 2,400 miles to get Dayton, leaving Moraga, Calif., at 6:15 a.m.
“I’ll tell you this, I didn’t see the rest of the (tournament selection) show,” St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We were in the first bracket, and once I saw our name called and we we replaying Tuesday, it was a mad scramble.”
The Gaels are led by senior guard Matthew Dellavedova, who averages 15.8 ppg.