When I moved to Alaska with my wife a little over two years ago for her job I thought my days of watching Division I basketball games in person was over. I had spent the previous 11 years watching the New Mexico State men's basketball team going from a college student sitting in the student section, to an alumnus sitting in the season ticket holder section to a photographer sitting on the baseline taking shots for a website I and fellow alum started to give more (read: better at least in our opinion) coverage of our beloved Aggies athletics.
When I moved, I had no idea what would happen to the coverage but two years later the site is well into its seventh year of covering the Aggies. Most of my coverage is now done thanks to the great invention #pixelvision and weekly interviews with the head coaches but I digress.
Our move to Alaska was done sight unseen, my wife and packed up all our belongings and moved. We had not ever visited; we really hadn't even done any research into what kind of stuff there would be to do there. Maybe it just being overwhelmed with uncertainty about the move or just the thought of moving from the warmth of the desert southwest to the frigidness of the arctic but the Great Alaska Shootout was the last thing on my mind so when we got up here and got settled in and I "found out" about the Shootout, I was happy. At least once a year I would get to see some Division I basketball in person. Then late last spring, the unexpected happened, I found out that the Aggies would be appearing in this year's Shootout. I was so excited, I just about fell out of my chair. I couldn't wait until November to come. Living Alaska was one of those things I had never envisioned and now living in Alaska AND seeing my alma mater play? Not in a million years did I think that would happen.
Flash forward to Thanksgiving night. I had not seen the Aggies in person since that fateful night in Spokane in March 2010. A questionable lane violation call against the Aggies late in the game cost them a chance at a RLU over Michigan State, a team that would go on to Indianapolis and play in the Final Four losing to Butler (the mid-major whose FF victory was one for "all the schools below The Red Line, or at least it felt that way).
As the Aggies took the floor I was a bit nervous but it was a good kind of nervous. This was the first live basketball game since that night in Spokane where I had a rooting interest.
The game itself would prove to be not much of a contest. The Aggies used suffocating defense to jump out to a 12-2 lead. Neither team shot the ball well, the CMU just 34 percent in the first half and the Aggies even worse, 25 percent, and yet New Mexico State went into halftime up 34-18, thanks in large part to a three pointer from Aggie Frenchman Bandja Sy (one of the many international players that make up the Aggies' roster). The Aggies forced 14 first half turnovers against a Chippewa team that had come into the game averaging just 13.6 turnovers per game.
The second half was much of the same. Neither team shot the ball well in the second half but the Aggies' defense continued to bother the much smaller Chippewas and the lead swelled to 19, then 23 and by the time the clock hit 8:00, the Aggies' lead was 28. For all intents and purposes the game was over. The next eight minutes were more of a showcase of Division I athleticism than anything. The Aggies were bound and determined to wow the crowd with #omgdunx and Central Michigan even got in a couple of them.
The Aggies would go on to win 78-49 and in the process shot 49 free throws, CMU shot 17. The Aggies also out-rebounded CMU 54-35, which was not terribly surprising considering the height advantage.
The beauty of The Shootout is that there is a winner's bracket and a consolation bracket and so every team that plays in The Shootout is guaranteed three games which means that every year I am guaranteed to see 12 games involving Division I teams and this year, three of those involve my alma mater. Who knew life in Alaska could be so good?
NEW MEXICO STATE 78, CENTRAL MICHIGAN 49 11/24/2011
CENTRAL MICHIGAN 2-2 (0-0) -- T. Zeigler 6-12 0-5 12; D. Jackson 3-8 2-2 9; A. McBroom 5-9 3-4 14; A. Coimbra 1-4 1-2 3; Z. Saylor 0-3 0-0 0; F. Craddock 2-7 1-1 5; O. Mbaigoto 1-4 0-1 2; A. Keel 0-4 2-2 2; J. Harden 1-2 0-0 2; J. Morris 0-1 0-0 0; J. Myrick 0-1 0-0 0; A. Barnes 0-1 0-0 0; N. Jordan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 9-17 49. NEW MEXICO STATE 4-0 (0-0) -- B. Sy 7-15 0-1 15; H. Laroche 2-7 3-4 8; D. Mullings 1-4 3-4 5; W. McKines 3-8 6-10 13; C. Kabongo 2-5 8-8 12; T. Watson 1-7 1-2 3; H. Rahman 2-4 5-8 9; T. Nephawe 0-5 3-4 3; R. Dixon 1-3 4-6 6; T. de Rouen 1-4 2-2 4. Totals 20-62 35-49 78.
Three-point goals: CMU 2-10 (F. Craddock 0-1; J. Morris 0-1; A. Coimbra 0-1; D. Jackson 1-3; A. Keel 0-2; O. Mbaigoto 0-1; A. McBroom 1-1), NMSU 3-13 (W. McKines 1-1; H. Laroche 1-4; B. Sy 1-3; R. Dixon 0-1; C. Kabongo 0-3; T. de Rouen 0-1); Rebounds: CMU 32 (A. Coimbra 7), NMSU 51 (W. McKines 12); Assists: CMU 10 (A. McBroom 5), NMSU 13 (H. Laroche 4); Total Fouls -- CMU 30, NMSU 17; Fouled Out: CMU-O. Mbaigoto; NMSU-None.