SPOKANE, Wash. – New Mexico State got down early and got behind big to San Diego State in their West Regional game Thursday night.
What the Aggies wouldn’t do is check out – until they absolutely had to. And then they had an advocate in Aztecs coach Steve Fisher.
NMSU’s 73-69 overtime loss wrapped up an exciting, long day of NCAA play not only in Spokane, but nationwide.
Much of the excitement of the NCAA Tourney is the “win or go home” scenario.
Fisher’s point of contention was the NCAA’s plan that the Aztecs-Aggies loser “go home” on the NCAA-provided charter plane immediately. So New Mexico State not only had to deal with the heartbreak of the close defeat, but had to vacate its lodging in Spokane and prep for the red-eye to El Paso, then a bus back to Las Cruces.
Fisher’s motivation for speaking out – he called the NCAA plan “disgraceful” – likely was not only sympathy for NMSU coach Marvin Menzies, a former assistant. It could have been empathy as well. Last year after the Aztecs lost to Florida Gulf Coast, they endured a grueling all-night trip home from Philadelphia that took 10 hours and didn’t get back to San Diego until sunrise.
“With the billions of dollars that we have here for them not to find a way to accommodate these kids, the student athletes, you can’t tell me they couldn’t find charter planes?” Fisher asked Thursday night. Then he called out any administrator to fly back with a losing team.
“See what it’s like to get home at 5 in the morning. It shouldn’t happen,” he said.
San Diego Union-Tribune’s Mark Ziegler was one reporter who took up Fisher on his request to dig a little more.
Ziegler tweeted on Friday that the Spokane plan flying teams to and fro didn’t take Cincinnati home until Friday afternoon. But the Bearcats lost in Thursday’s first game at Spokane Arena – tipping off some eight hours earlier than did the Aggies – and still got to spend Thursday night in Spokane.
Menzies’ raw feelings on Thursday had nothing to do with travel. His team showed some fight to rally from a 14-point second-half deficit – and from 10 points down at the 3:52 mark of the second half – to force overtime. It was a record fourth OT game of the first full day of the NCAA Tournament.
Daniel Mullings scored 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half to spur the comeback. Kevin Aronis tied the game at 60 with a 3-pointer to force the extra session. But San Diego State scored the first five points of overtime and held on.
“It’s tough, man, it’s tough,” said Menzies, whose team finished 26-10. “I knew it would be a bittersweet loss, but I just didn’t think it would be this emotional.”
Of the five Aggie starters to Thursday night’s game, four are underclassmen.
Said Aronis, the senior, “I think with the other guys that are coming back, they are pretty young and definitely with a good summer and off season, I think they can definitely make some noise next year.”