BUFFALO, NY – Richmond won a game in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament for the first time since 2011. To some, that might sound like a long time.
Just try telling that to New Mexico State: The Aggies won in the tourney for the first time since – drum roll, please – 1993.
Saturday these 12-seeds will play against 4-seeds for spots in the Sweet 16: Richmond vs. Providence, New Mexico State vs. Arkansas.
“To get an opportunity to go to the Sweet 16 is everything you dream of as a kid,” Richmond guard Jacob Gilyard said Friday. “That’s kind of why you play basketball.”
New Mexico State guard Sir’Jabari Rice understands that sense of yearning.
“After you win one game,” he said, “what’s the point of losing the next?”
Rice believes the Aggies can go much farther: “If we make it to the Sweet 16, there is more history. If you make it to the Final Four, it’s more history, Elite Eight. “
If that sounds like looking a tad too far ahead, be advised that Aggies coach Chris Jans encourages that kind of swagger.
“I don’t think they are going to fear anybody that we play,” he said. “And if we are fortunate enough to win tomorrow and advance, you know, whoever we are playing then, they’re going to go after them.”
For the record, the team most likely to emerge on that bracket line for the next round should New Mexico State advance would be, ahem, No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga.
“It’s like, ‘Let’s take the jerseys off and play shirts and skins and let’s hoop at the church gym and see who wins,'” Jans said. “I think there is some of that attitude that they have. As a coach, I love it. I love it. I maybe encourage it at times. You got to have belief. You got to have confidence or you’re beat before the ball is jumped. “
It had been a while since Richmond won at the NCAA Tournament, but the Spiders have a history of success as a double-digit seed. Gilyard thinks he knows the secret to that.
“It’s a little bit of a locker-room approach, a little bit of studying film, kind of understanding what the other team is going to do,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s kind of that it’s just a one-game series. You don’t have to beat somebody two times, nine times, four times, whatever it is. You just have to beat them once, so we go in with that mindset. Those 40 minutes are all we’re worried about. “
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Richmond had to beat top seed Davidson in the Atlantic 10 tournament final just to get to the NCAA Tournament. And now the Spiders are on the cusp of another Sweet 16, just like 2011.
“To have that opportunity to be one of only 16 teams remaining, it’s just such a stamp of approval or stamp of establishment if you can accomplish something like that,” Richmond head coach Chris Mooney said. “It just marks your program, I think, as one of the very relevant programs in the country.”
Thursday, when Richmond joyfully left the court after beating 5-seed Iowa, New Mexico State’s Jans stopped to watch the happy scene.
“It gave me chills to think what that would feel like for us,” Jans said. “Was really, really hoping we’d get to feel that as well.”
Then the Aggies went out and beat 5-seed Connecticut – and they felt all the feels. Jans said he woke up Friday with a little extra bounce in his step di lui: “The coffee tasted wonderful this morning.”
Now that the Aggies have won a tournament game for the first time in forever, Jans was asked if he feels maybe his team is playing with house money.
“We wanted to be the staff that brought that next phase or got us back to where they were in the early ’90s,” when the Aggies were winning tournament games, he said. “But I don’t feel like we are playing with house money. I don’t feel pressure. We’re excited to be here, and excited for the opportunity. “
Remember when we told you that New Mexico State had won its first NCAA Tournament game since 1993? Well, technically it has been even longer.
That’s because the Aggies’ three tournament wins in 1992 and 1993 were later vacated by the NCAA. So when did New Mexico State last win an NCAA Tournament game that still counts?
For that you have to go all the way back to when the Aggies beat St. Bonaventure in the consolation game of the 1970 Final Four.
So maybe it is only fitting that New Mexico State came to Western New York, where the Bonnies play, to win another NCAA Tournament game.
The wait since the Aggies’ last (official) tournament win was more than 50 years. And the wait for their next one just might be less than 48 hours.