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Aggies draw 13 seed – and Saint Louis

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NMSU hasn’t won a game in tourney since 1993 – technically, even longer

Been there – haven’t done that.

At least, not recently.

For the third time in the past four years, and the 20th time overall, the New Mexico State Aggies are heading to the NCAA Tournament. But it’s been a long time since they’ve won a game in this event.

Midwest Regional
San Jose, Calif.
NMSU vs. Saint Louis
12:10 p.m. TNT

Marvin Menzies and the Aggies hope to end that hex when they meet 16th-ranked Saint Louis on Thursday in the Midwest Regional in San Jose, Calif.

NMSU, which beat Texas-Arlington 64-55 to win the Western Athletic Conference tournament championship game on Saturday night in Las Vegas, was handed a 13 seed. St. Louis (27-6), the Atlantic-10 regular season and tournament champion, is a fourth seed.

“You don’t want to just get there; you want to win after you arrive,” Menzies told the Journal on Sunday. “It’s our hope that we give our best performance more than anything . … (Winning) obviously would be a big step in the right direction for the program.”

The Aggies (24-10) lost the first game of the tournament each of the past two recent trips – as the 13th seed last year against fourth-seeded Indiana (79-66) and as the 12th seed to fifth-seeded Michigan State (70-67) in 2010.

Seniors Bandja Sy and Tyrone Watson were parts of both setbacks, and Menzies says their experience should be a major benefit.

“You lean on them and lean on their experience,” Menzies said. “You can tell guys as a coach, but it’s quite often received a little bit differently from a teammate, even if its the same message.

” … The routine that you go through, the messages that are shared in the locker room and the dorm rooms from the guys who have traveled these roads before is a definite benefit, and could quite possibly propel you to the next level depending on how well the message is received by the younger guys.”

To get to the next round, NMSU needs to get past a Saint Louis team that is quite familiar to New Mexico Lobos fans, but not so much the Aggies.

UNM beat the Billikens 64-60 last season in the Pit, but lost this season 60-46 in Saint Louis in a game the Lobos trailed 33-13 at the half.

“I don’t really know anything about them,” Menzies said after Sunday’s selections were announced. “All I know is they’re playing with lot of passion, a lot of emotion and a lot of talent. That’s a good combination and that’s why they were successful with such a high seed.”

Much of the Billikens’ emotion is for their late coach, Rick Majerus. The former Utah legend coached the Billikens for five seasons, but announced last August he would not coach this season due to health reasons. He died in December.

The Billikens are wearing black ribbons on their jerseys with the word “Coach” emblazoned over them in honor of Majerus, who led Utah to the 1998 national title game against Kentucky.

Majerus’ assistant, Jim Crews, took over on an interim basis. Saint Louis has four players averaging double figures – 6-foot-5 junior forward Dwayne Evans, 6-8 senior forward Cody Ellis, senior guard Kwamain Mitchell and junior guard Mike McCall, Jr. Junior guard Jordair Jett is at 9.3 points and 3.2 assists a game.

Mitchell, whose senior season started 11 games late because of foot surgery, had 19 points in the Billikens’ 62-56 win over 25th-ranked VCU in the A-10 title game Sunday.

Saint Louis is 5-1 against ranked teams this year with the only loss coming to Kansas in November. The Jayhawks are one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

NMSU, winners of 18 of its last 20 games, is led by three guys who played in last year’s NCAA Tournament – sophomore Daniel Mullings (14.0 points, 5.2 rebounds per game) and seniors Sy (11.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg) and Watson (10.8, 5.1) – and rapidly improving 7-foot-5 freshman center Sim Bhullar (10. 2 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.4 blocks per game).

The Aggies have lost six straight NCAA Tournament games, starting in the second round against Cincinnati in 1993. Since then, they lost opening-round games in 1994, 1999, 2007, 2010 and 2012.

In 1970, the legendary Amazin’ Aggies squad – led by eventual NBA players Jimmy Collins, Charlie Criss and Sam Lacey – got all the way to the Final Four before losing to UCLA. The Aggies also made it the Sweet 16 in 1992 (in Albuquerque) and made the regional finals in 1968 and 1969.

In 1995, however, they were forced to vacate their two victories in 1992 and their one in 1993 because of academic fraud issues. Thus, NMSU hasn’t officially won a game in the tournament since beating St. Bonaventure in the Final Four consolation game in 1970.

Material from The Associated Press was incorporated into this story.

— This article appeared on page B1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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