Without the 800 Games Project I would never have learned about so many teams around Hoops Nation. The final game in Portland on Thursday featured one of these teams, New Mexico State. William Harty, Jr has, I believe, recapped all the Aggies' home games, quite an accomplishment. In addition Samuel Wasson covered them when they went up to the Great Alaska Shootout. From these game stories I knew a few things about New Mexico State. Marvin Menzies' team liked to run and score. A lot. They also were led by Wendell McKines, their top scorer, rebounder, and Tweeter. Wendell seems like a guy I would want on my team, a leader on and off the court. I also read about NMSU's run to the WAC championship, which they achieved with three dominant wins in Las Vegas. To be honest, I knew more about them than I did their opponents, the Indiana Hoosiers. I watch above-the-Red-Line basketball when it's on but I really don't know much about the teams. My time is valuable and I use it to follow who I want. The Mid-Majority, and the internet in general, has made this easy.
There were two things I did know about the game: (1) Indiana, a 4 seed, would be a tough challenge for the 13th-seeded Aggies, and (2) there would be lots of Hoosiers in the building. IU, like other Big 10 universities, has an alumni base spread throughout the country and there were sure to be plenty in the Northwest. The crowd's reaction as Indiana came out for warmups confirmed this. It was clear who they'd come to see.
Included among the Hoosier fans was a couple seated who were the first people all day to sit in the seats right next to me. Ticket sales were nowhere near as brisk this year as in 2009, when the tournament was at the Rose Garden for the first time and the participants included Washington and Gonzaga (it was painful, having so many Husky and Bulldog fans in the building). This year the lower bowl was nearly full but the upper level ends and corners included large patches of empty seats all day. My friend Joel had decided to come with me a couple days before the games and was able to get a pair of seats one section over from mine for less than face value. Nobody ever showed up in the row in front of or behind us so Steven was able to join us for the last two games as well. The fans who did come witnessed some good basketball though. I wanted NMSU to win, of course, but having IU fans next to me really didn't bother me. If I lived on the other side of the country from the Pilots and they came to my town I would go to the game to support them. They were just taking a rare chance to see their favorite team, so good for them.
As you're probably aware, tournament games involving high seeds can go one of two ways: The underdog goes all out from the start, taking the lead before tiring out, or the favorite starts the game on a big run and doesn't look back. Unfortunately for the Aggies the latter happened. After five minutes IU was up 14-4 and I just knew it wasn't going to happen for the Aggies this night. Indiana had Derek Hulls nailing shots from the outside, including four superhoops, and Cody Zeller, Christian Watford, and Will Sheehey as options in the post. There were too many Hoosiers for the Aggies to stop.
Even in a loss some of the Aggies I'd read about had good games. McKines finished with 15 points and 9 rebounds. I could see how he could use his strength and athleticism to dominate WAC defenses. Bandja Sy had 12 points off the bench, including an omgdunx. And one of the highlights of the game was an alley-oop omgdunx for freshman Daniel Mullings, assisted by Hernst Laroche. It's too bad Laroche, McKines, and Hamidu Rahman had to end their college careers in a game like this. It's the kind of game we've all seen in the tournament, where the higher seed just pulls away from their mid-major opponent. To the Aggies' credit, they kept running and fighting to the end, making the most of their appearance in the dance. This is how it ends for so many teams below the Line, but every time it happens it still hurts a little.
Here's a couple of photos from NMSU's practice session, and the opening tip. Lastly, I have to note I enjoyed the Aggies' band, and their fight song was the coolest of the eight teams in Portland. It sounded like something from a Western.
INDIANA 79, NEW MEXICO STATE 66 03/15/2012
NEW MEXICO STATE 26-10 (10-4) -- A. Marshall 6-14 3-6 15; W. McKines 6-10 2-2 15; H. Laroche 3-9 1-2 8; D. Mullings 5-9 0-0 10; T. Watson 2-5 2-2 6; T. Nephawe 3-3 3-4 9; B. Sy 5-7 0-0 12; H. Rahman 3-6 0-0 6; R. Barry 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-49 8-10 66. INDIANA 26-8 (11-7) -- J. Hulls 8-12 2-2 22; W. Sheehey 7-11 0-0 14; C. Watford 6-11 0-0 14; V. Oladipo 3-7 0-0 6; C. Zeller 5-9 4-6 14; R. Abell 1-1 2-2 4; T. Pritchard 1-1 0-0 2; D. Elston 1-2 0-0 3; M. Roth 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-54 8-10 79.
Three-point goals: NMSU 4-12 (W. McKines 1-3; H. Laroche 1-3; T. Watson 0-2; B. Sy 2-3; D. Mullings 0-1), IND 7-13 (D. Elston 1-1; J. Hulls 4-6; C. Watford 2-3; V. Oladipo 0-1; W. Sheehey 0-2); Rebounds: NMSU 22 (W. McKines 7), IND 21 (C. Zeller 6); Assists: NMSU 7 (D. Mullings 3), IND 15 (C. Zeller 4); Total Fouls -- NMSU 13, IND 12; Fouled Out: NMSU-None; IND-None.