As New Mexico State starts its final home stand of the season, I spent some time thinking about how I became a devout follower of college basketball, and the Aggies in particular. Much of that is due to my constant companion at NMSU events over the years, my mother, who is now 85 years old. In the Pan American Center's second season, Athletic Director Lou Henson and his staff created a family season ticket plan. The center court section (QQ) near the rafters opposite the TV cameras was reserved for this plan, which admitted parents and as many children as they had. All the big Catholic families and all the big Mormon families became acquainted sitting together through the seasons, and my six siblings and I were no exceptions; my cross-town cousins generally made this a dozen Hartys. Though it was sometimes difficult for Mom as a newly-single Catholic school teacher, she always scraped together the resources to get us to the games.
What an opportunity it has been. From the basketball standpoint, it couldn't have had a better start. That 1969-70 Aggie team only lost thrice, never at home, and the final loss was to UCLA in the national semifinal. (The other two losses, interestingly enough, were both the Aggies' second game of that season against a team: against Baylor at the Hardin-Simmons Cowboy Classic in Abilene, Texas, and at Creighton.) We have had the chance to see conference tournament games at home (when the Valley tournament was at campus sites), and in Long Beach, Las Vegas, Reno, New Orleans and Bowling Green, Kentucky. We have cheered great Aggie players from Rob Evans (from before the Final Four team), through future NBA players Jimmy Collins, Charlie Criss, Sam Lacey, Steve Colter, Randy Brown, and so many others. We had the chance to have dinner at an event with the two leading scorers in NMSU history, Lacey and Eric Channing. We saw some thrilling victories like the 1993 comeback from seven points down with just under two minutes to play to defeat UNM in two overtimes at the Pit, and the home victory over UNLV in their 1990 national championship season. We've also seen some agonizing home defeats, like the 1979 overtime loss to Larry Bird and Indiana State in their Final Four season, and the three overtime loss to Boise State in the 2008 WAC Tournament final.
For forty years, we have followed the Aggies, winners and losers, good teams and really bad ones. It has been a constant rallying point for our family, and over the years it has not been uncommon to have several of the six surviving siblings show up for an important game. Five of us made the NIT game against Arizona State a few years ago, and several were in Albuquerque to see the 1992 Sweet Sixteen: Charlie Ward (I think he played another sport too) and Florida State lose to Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers, and our Aggies fall again to UCLA.
Mom's memory is failing rapidly, and for the past several years, she never remembers the score or the opponent by the time we get to the car. But Aggie basketball games are much of the winter social fabric of our community, and as long as she can make it to the games physically (she now uses a walker all the time, and our seats are carefully chosen to require no stairs), we will go. It is the chance to see friends of many years, and we are always greeted by Lou and Mary Henson, university President Barbara Couture and her spouse Paul, AD McKinley Boston and his spouse Magellia, and the many friends with seats near us: the Papens and Kleins; the Boozers and Connors; the Lutzs and Fants; Mickey Clute and Lou Sisbarro; Ric Nezzer, Mike Lutz and Don Thome; and so many others. I am very thankful that we can still go out to see the Aggies; hopefully, Mom and I will have many more opportunities.
The game on Tuesday night was not terribly exciting or competitive. The Northern New Mexico Eagle program is in its third season, its first as a member of NAIA Division 2. The Espańola school is only in its sixth year offering bachelor's degrees, as it has for many years been a community college. The Eagles do not have a conference affiliation, so their schedule is difficult and involves a lot of travel. Scheduling a game with one of the state's NCAA Division I schools was a major highlight for the NNM administration and coaches. Unfortunately, coming into the evening, the Eagles were 0-29.
The Aggies rested senior power forward Wendell McKines for the evening. The Eagles' early enthusiasm led to a couple of early leads, but after four minutes the Aggies gradually pulled away to a 45-29 halftime advantage. Just after halftime, senior Hamidu Rahman became the third member of this team to score his 1,000th career point, following fellow seniors McKines and point guard Hernst Laroche. After that, several young reserves got their first extended playing time of the season and the Aggies coasted to a 100-68 victory. All in all, it was a good evening for everyone. The Northern New Mexico Eagles got the chance to play in the big arena, and went home dreaming of future successes. The New Mexico State Aggies got a needed rest for most of the starting players, and playing time for those who usually do not. I got the chance once again to enjoy a basketball game with Mom, my sister Paula, and our many, many friends.
at NEW MEXICO STATE 100, NORTHERN NEW MEXICO 68 02/14/2012
NEW MEXICO STATE 19-8 (7-3) -- T. Watson 5-8 3-5 13; B. Sy 9-12 0-0 19; D. Mullings 5-10 4-4 14; R. Barry 3-8 0-0 7; H. Laroche 4-8 2-2 12; D. Lewis 1-2 0-0 3; R. Dixon 3-7 0-0 6; T. Nephawe 4-4 0-2 8; H. Rahman 7-9 4-5 18. Totals 41-68 13-18 100.
Three-point goals: - , NMSU 5-15 (H. Laroche 2-5; B. Sy 1-2; R. Dixon 0-1; R. Barry 1-5; D. Lewis 1-2); Rebounds: , NMSU 42 (T. Watson 9); Assists: , NMSU 22 (H. Laroche 4); Total Fouls -- , NMSU 8; Fouled Out: -; NMSU-None.