PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The stage keeps getting bigger, the lights keep getting brighter.
None of it seems to faze the Saint Mary's College basketball team.
In a heart-stopping 40 minutes, the 10th-seeded Gaels punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 with a 75-68 victory over No. 9 Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's South Regional.
With the game tied at 65, Saint Mary's scored seven straight points, including a 3-pointer by guard Mickey McConnell that banked off the glass from 25 feet away. That, in and of itself, may have had some divine intervention along the way.
On the next possession, Villanova's Reggie Redding tried to drive the lane and get up a shot under the hoop that was rejected by Omar Samhan, who finished with 32 points.
Matthew Dellavedova hit two free throws at the other end to give the Gaels 72-65 lead. Corey Stokes responded with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to four, but Dellavedova hit two more free throws to all but seal the win.
The Gaels will play either Old Dominion or Baylor in Houston this week. It's the first time in the history of the 102-year-old program that Saint Mary's has won two NCAA Tournament games in one year.
Saint Mary's was doing a solid job of defending in the halfcourt but ran into trouble when Villanova got out in transition, especially off of Gaels turnovers.
Saint Mary's had 11 turnovers by the 7:36 mark of the second half, which turned into 17 Villanova points. The Wildcats also had 10 second chance points, compared to four for the Gaels.
Samhan picked up his second foul with 11:25 left in the first half when he already had eight points and five rebounds.
Wildcats forward Dominic Cheek made a 3-pointer midway through the first half to tie the game at 17, but the Gaels went on a 10-2 run over the next three minutes. McConnell and Dellavedova each hit a 3-pointer, as Saint Mary's was 4-for-8 from behind the arc in the first 12 minutes.
The Gaels took a 33-21 lead on a layup by McConnell, but the Wildcats responded with an 8-0 run thanks to a pair of 3-pointers from Corey Stokes. But Samhan checked back into the game with a minute left in the half and immediately converted a 3-point play to settle things down for Saint Mary's.