Aggie Basketball is Back

Heading into the 2005-06 college basketball season the New Mexico State men's basketball team were a bit of a mystery, A 6-24 record in 2004-05 with a new head coach, but after a loss in the semifinals of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament last Friday night brought the year to an end, all of college basketball had its answer...the Aggies are back!!!

New Mexico State finished the 2005-06 season with an overall record of 16-14, the club's first winning season since the 2002-03 campaign. As of Feb. 20th, the Aggies' 10-win improvement over last season was tied for the second best turn around in all of Division I basketball. The turn around is also the best single-season improvement for NMSU since the 1985-86 season when the Aggies rebounded from a 7-20 year to post an 18-12 record.

After taking over the men's basketball program less than a year ago, head coach Reggie Theus made a promise to himself, his team and all Aggie fans...regardless of the wins and losses, this year's team would be the hardest working team on the court each and every night. A native of Inglewood, Calif. and a star in the NBA and Hollywood, coach Theus quickly brought the excitement of up-tempo college basketball back to the Pan American Center.

In 2005-06, the Aggies posted the 36th winning season at the Pan American Center in the facility's 38 years as NMSU went 10-4 in front of the hometown crowd. The Aggies also made it clear to their new conference brethren that the Pan American Center would be a tough place get a win as NMSU posted a 7-1 mark in WAC play at home.

It didn't take long for the Aggies to make their presence felt among the ranks of college basketball this season. In the NIT Season Tip-Off, NMSU battled eventual Pac-10 champion UCLA and No. 2 seed in this spring's NCAA Tournament all the way before falling by just 13, 83-70 at Pauley Pavilion.

In the Aggies' first home game under Theus, the Crimson & White gave the Pan American faithful a glimpse of the excitement that what was to come as the home team downed in-state rival Western New Mexico, 83-51. After two losses at home to Sam Houston State and UTEP, NMSU grabbed one of its biggest wins in years as the Aggies defeated I-25 rival New Mexico, 67-61 for New Mexico State's first win over the Lobos since the 2003-04 season.

Entering conference play, the Aggies were still unsure of what lay ahead, but after splitting its first two league games on the road with a win at Idaho and a loss at Boise State, NMSU quickly realized that it could hang with the best in the WAC. On Jan. 12, the Aggies won their first ever WAC home game as they downed Fresno State 73-70. Two days later, NMSU won consecutive games for the first time this season as the Aggies outlasted Hawai'i down the stretch, 87-84.

After two straight losses on the road at Louisiana Tech and Fresno State, NMSU righted the ship on Jan. 28 at San Jose State as the Aggies defeated the Spartans, 81-75 in overtime. After scoring just 20 points in the first half and trailing San Jose State by nine at the break, the Aggies scored 48 points in the second half to climb back into the game and ultimately send it to overtime. NMSU was led on the night by Nelson who scored 25 of his game-high 28 points in the second half help the Aggies stay in the conference hunt. In overtime, the Aggies scored the first eight points of the extra session to seal the win.

NMSU entered the month of February just 8-10 on the year, but a 7-2 record over the next 28 days put the Aggies into second place heading into the final week of the season. The team got the month off to a great start as the Aggies defeated conference power Utah State, 93-86 at the Pan American Center. The Aggies' 93-point outburst against Utah State was the most points any NMSU team had scored since a 98-67 victory over Western New Mexico at the Pan American Center on Feb. 9, 2002. The last time the Aggies scored over 93 points versus a Division I opponent was Jan. 10, 2002 when the Aggies defeated Middle Tennessee on the road in triple overtime, 94-88. The last time NMSU scored more than 93 points against a D-1 opponent in regulation was on Dec. 20, 2001 when the Aggies downed Valparaiso 94-77.

After back-to-back losses to eventual WAC champion Nevada, the Aggies recorded one of the biggest wins in the program's history as NMSU went into Logan, Utah and beat Utah State. On Feb. 11, the New Mexico State men's basketball team accomplished something that not many team have done in the past decade as the Aggies went into the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and defeated the Utah State Aggies, 83-77 in Western Athletic Conference action.

The loss was just the 10th home defeat for the Aggies of Utah State in the last eight years under head coach Stew Morrill. Utah State is now 109-10 under Morrill at home and 59-6 in conference home games under Morrill. It was the Aggies' first loss at home this season (11-1) and snapped a current seven-game home winning streak over conference opponents.

With the win, NMSU defeated Utah State in Logan for the first time since Feb. 13, 1995 when the Aggies downed the Utages, 104-100 in double overtime. It was also the first season series sweep of Utah State for the Aggies since the 1992-93 season.

The Aggies' win over Utah State in Logan marked the beginning of a season-high six-game win streak for NMSU. Along Utah State, the Aggies also defeated Boise State, won at Pacific on Bracket Buster Saturday and then beat San Jose State, Louisiana Tech and Idaho. It was NMSU's longest win streak since the 2002-03 season.

Heading into the off-season the future of Aggie basketball is as bright as it has been in a long time. NMSU will return two all-conference selections and four of five starters from this year's team next season. Joining the solid foundation will be juniors Justin Hawkins (Utah), Fred Peete (Kansas State), Martin Iti (UNC-Charlotte) and Trei Steward (Northern Colorado), all of whom red shirted this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Also coming to Las Cruces next season is 6-foot-9 junior college forward Hatila Passos. Passos, a sophomore this season, is playing for one of the top junior college programs in the country at Arkansas-Forth Smith.

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