As the Eight-Hundred Game Project reaches its halfway point, today in Las Cruces was a day of milestones in other ways. This afternoon, I attended a memorial service for Dick Waugh. Dick was the associate director of the NMSU Computer Center for many years, some of which I spent working for him, more in a programming class he taught, and many more than that enjoying Aggie sporting events together. In 1978, Dick began a 28 year run as the official scorer at NMSU home basketball games; he was courtside for over 500 Aggie men's games. When he retired from the university several years ago, he started second careers as a nearly full-time grandpa and as a twice-weekly golfer, got to indulge his passion for baseball at spring training in Arizona, and continued into this fall attending Aggie sporting events. It always ends in a loss; we'll miss you, Dick.
Another significant milestone was passed this evening as "Voice of the Aggies" Jack Nixon broadcast his 1,000th Aggie men's basketball game. Jack joined NMSU Athletics in 1976, just a few years after his graduation from Kansas, replacing another Aggie broadcasting legend, Tom Dillon, who moved to Tempe to begin 20 years as the voice of Arizona State Athletics. After a short detour in the early 80's to cover the Oklahoma Outlaws of the USFL, Jack returned to Las Cruces in 1986 to stay. He has taken us, via the Aggie Sports Network, to games from literally the four corners of the country, following the Aggies to Fairbanks, Honolulu, Springfield, MA, and Miami, and many places between.
Because of NMSU's conference mobility, Jack has had the opportunity to see many, many great basketball players from all over the western two-thirds of the country. Cedric Maxwell led UNC-Charlotte to the Roadrunner Tournament Championship in Las Cruces. The Missouri Valley years brought to the Pan American Center greats like Maurice Cheeks of West Texas State, Memphis stars Larry Finch and Larry Kenon, as well as Cliff Levingston, Antoine Carr, and Xavier McDaniel of Wichita State. A notable game on February 1, 1979, saw Bob Heaton of Indiana State heave in a shot from behind half court (before that was worth three points) to give Larry Bird's team the chance to win in overtime and remain unbeaten until running into Magic Johnson. Another classic Valley broadcast was the 1977 game at Bradley where the Braves scored the first 28 points of the game, only to have the Aggies come back to win the game 117-109, the NCAA record for largest deficit before scoring to be overcome to win a game.
Jack also brought us the Big West rivalry with UNLV and the many great Runnin' Rebels we played against like Stacey Augmon, Larry Johnson, and Greg Anthony, and the Aggie win over the 1990 Rebel team that won the national championship. Later that year, the Aggies were also the opponent in Loyola Marymount's first NCAA tournament game after the untimely passing of Hank Gathers, remembered for Bo Kimble's left handed free throw tribute. The Aggies' success in the 90's included a 1992 sweet sixteen run to the Albuquerque regional, ended by a loss to UCLA. Jack recalls as one of his favorite broadcasts the 1999 Aggie Big West Tournament victory over Boise State, made so much sweeter by remembering the two Bronco blowouts of the Aggies during that regular season.
At halftime tonight, Jack came to center court as a video of game highlights during his tenure was shown to the crowd of 5,300.
Tonight's game was important for both the visiting Idaho Vandals and the Aggies. The Vandals, having lost to Nevada and beaten Fresno State at home last week, got an overtime victory at Louisiana Tech on Thursday, and are trying to establish themselves as a factor in the WAC championship chase. Coach Don Verlin's Vandals play in much the same deliberate style as Utah State, not surprising since Verlin was one of Stew Morrill's assistants with the blue Aggies for over a decade. The Vandals this year have both somewhat more athletic big men and more experienced guards than Utah State and therefore present a different challenge. NMSU is trying to sustain its unbeaten conference record and continue to adjust to a smaller roster, depleted to only eight active players by midseason departures and season-ending injuries.
Both teams played well at the outset; the Aggies were red hot, making six of their first seven shot attempts to jump out to a 13-8 lead. Idaho's disciplined offense and some sloppy NMSU defense allowed Idaho to gradually erode the lead and build one of their own. The Vandals led 37-31 with about three minutes to play. A couple of good possessions on both ends of the court for NMSU made the halftime score 37-35. First half shooting was good by both teams (NMSU 56%, UI 48%), and the difference came from Idaho's four for ten three-point shooting, somewhat offset by NMSU's three additional made free throws.
Although Idaho began the second half with an easy Kyle Barone dunk, the Aggies asserted their inside game, going inside on most half-court possessions. Idaho made a couple of runs during the second half, keyed again by three point shooting, but generally the Aggies made this their game by playing to their strengths: taking the ball into the paint and either getting high percentage shots or free throws. NMSU made 23 of its 32 free throws, while Idaho made nine of twelve; the Aggies continue to lead the nation in free throw rate. The final score was NMSU 80, Idaho 68.
Power forward Wendell McKines led the way for NMSU with 23 points and 10 rebounds; point guard Hernst Laroche added 20 points including all three Aggie three-point shots. The Vandals had a very balanced attack with five different players scoring nine to twelve points; guard Connor Hill's three #superhoops were most of his team-leading twelve points. The Aggies had significant margins in shooting percentage (59% to 44%), rebounding (38-21) and free throws; the Vandals' strengths were in three point shooting (7-21 versus 3-10) and turnovers (the Aggies committed 18 to the Vandals 11).
A quick look at the WAC tonight: Utah State (2-2) came from behind to nip Louisiana Tech (0-3) 69-65 in Ruston, an important road victory. League-leading Nevada (4-0) also came from behind at home to beat Hawai'i (2-1) 77-74. Homestanding Fresno State (1-3) defeated San Jose State (0-3) 82-73. The NMSU victory leaves them 3-0 to start the WAC season; Idaho's loss evens their record at 2-2. Next week's WAC games have NMSU and Louisiana Tech visiting San Jose State and Hawai'i, Nevada hosting Fresno State, and Utah State going to Idaho's Kibbie Dome.
I'll end this story as Jack Nixon ended tonight's and 999 other NMSU Aggie men's basketball broadcasts, "Thank you for your time this time; until next time, so long!"
at NEW MEXICO STATE 80, IDAHO 68 01/14/2012
IDAHO 9-9 (2-2) -- O. Czyz 11-14 0-1 24; D. Geiger 3-11 3-4 11; S. Madison 4-13 0-0 9; L. Tatum 2-6 0-0 5; K. Barone 4-7 3-5 11; D. Bandoumel 4-6 2-2 10; J. Kammerer 0-1 0-0 0; C. Hill 4-8 1-1 12; M. Habeeb 2-3 0-0 4; W. Faines 1-1 0-0 2; M. McChristian 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 26-59 9-12 68. NEW MEXICO STATE 13-5 (3-0) -- H. Laroche 5-10 7-9 20; W. McKines 8-12 7-8 23; D. Mullings 3-5 0-0 6; T. Watson 2-3 5-7 9; T. Nephawe 4-5 2-4 10; B. Sy 0-4 0-2 0; H. Rahman 5-7 2-2 12. Totals 27-46 23-32 80.
Three-point goals: ID 7-21 (D. Geiger 2-7; L. Tatum 1-1; S. Madison 1-8; C. Hill 3-5), NMSU 3-10 (W. McKines 0-1; H. Laroche 3-5; T. Watson 0-1; B. Sy 0-3); Rebounds: ID 20 (D. Geiger 4), NMSU 36 (W. McKines 10); Assists: ID 14 (D. Geiger 5), NMSU 11 (T. Watson 5); Total Fouls -- ID 25, NMSU 14; Fouled Out: ID-None; NMSU-None.