The following is from the print edition of the Las Cruces Bulletin, and is Publisher David McCollum's lead editorial in the March 26 edition.
Well done, Aggies
Men's basketball team came alive in WAC and NCAA tournaments
For the past two weeks, I was privileged to follow the New Mexico State University Aggie men’s basketball team as they won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Reno, Nev., and competed in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Spokane, Wash.
The Aggies represented themselves and their university well throughout the tournaments. Our entire community should be proud of the team’s accomplishments with a 22-12 record, second place in the WAC regular season, a WAC Tournament championship and a painfully close 70-67 loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament to last year’s NCAA national championship runner-up, Michigan State.
Under coach Marvin Menzies, the Aggies stepped up their game big time for the tournaments. After closing the season with disappointing losses to Nevada and Utah State, which dropped the Aggies to a No. 3 seed in the WAC tournament, the Aggies were not to be denied as they dominated San Jose State and out-hustled Nevada and Utah State to earn the WAC championship.
When the selection committee announced that the Aggies, as a No. 12 seed, would face Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA playoffs, few experts felt that NMSU could compete against the powerful, quick Spartans from the Big 10 conference. Also, prior to the first NCAA game, the media created an artificial “controversy” after NMSU’s Jahmar Young said he did not know who Kalin Lucas was. (Lucas just happened to be Michigan State’s star point guard.) In a subsequent press conference with Michigan State, the media exacerbated the issue by asking Lucas and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo if they felt disrespected by Young’s comments. Predictably they said “yes,” primarily because they could not believe that anyone in college basketball would not recognize Kalin Lucas by name.
Personally, I felt this brouhaha was way overblown and was unfair to Jahmar. In fact, I was interviewed by Detroit’s Fox Network about Young’s not knowing Lucas. My honest response was that, until the controversy arose, even I did not recognize Lucas’ name. Of course, the cocky Northerners were shocked beyond belief by my comments and suggested that I am not a true fan of college basketball. (I think those who know me will disagree.)
With this unnecessary controversy aside, the Aggies remained confident of their ability to compete with any other team in the tournament, including Michigan State. Aggie senior Jonathan Gibson kept the Aggies in the game with three 3-pointers in the first half, although the Aggies trailed 42-29 after 20 minutes of play. In the second half, the Aggies fought back with ferocious team rebounding and sharp shooting from Young and Troy Gillenwater. Except for about 500 green-clad Spartan fans, the remaining 10,000 fans vociferously supported the Aggies. In fact, with the incredible crowd support, the atmosphere in the Spokane arena felt like we were in the Pan American Center.
A couple of tough calls by the officials late in the game allowed Michigan State to take a three-point lead and denied the Aggies any real shot at winning the game. Gibson’s long 3-point attempt with just a couple of seconds left was perfectly on line with the basket, but was slightly short and bounced off the front of the rim. The hard-fought game was over. However, our “ne’er say die” Aggies had played their hearts out. One statistic that showed NMSU’s team effort is that they tied Michigan State in total rebounds at 40 each. And the Spartans were ranked second nationally in rebounding.
I understand that Las Cruces came alive in support of the Aggies, and there was not a single item of crimson Aggie gear to be found in any local retail stores. Fans are optimistic about the possibilities for next year, as the team loses only Gibson and back-ups Tray Britt and Kelly Merker. Hopefully, all returners will make their grades, and we can look forward to another exciting basketball year starting next November. We also hope that the fans will once again fill the Pan Am to support the Aggies throughout the season.
For now we can relax, watch the final rounds of the tournament and feel really good about this year’s Aggies – the 2010 WAC champions. Congratulations to coach Menzies and the entire Aggie team.