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New Mexico State University Basketball

Aggie basketball looks to honor stars of the '70s

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Throughout the remainder of the New Mexico State men's basketball team's 2019-20 home schedule, NMSU will honor various teams from the past with banner raising ceremonies and reunions highlighting the accomplishments of those squads.

"This is the third year of our effort to recognize championship Aggie men's basketball teams with high-quality banners being hung in the Pan American Center rafters," said NM State Director of Athletics Mario Moccia. "Year one we focused on the teams from the 1930s through the 1950s, last year our focus shifted to the teams from the 1960s, and now we move on to a tremendously successful decade of the 1970's. We are ecstatic that so many of our former players will be returning this season and right out of the gate the 1978-79 team will be appropriately honored."

1978-79 New Mexico State Aggies
During the final season of the Ken Hayes coaching era, New Mexico State returned to the NCAA Tournament field for the first time since the 1974-75 season while securing the program's highest win total since the never-to-be-forgotten 1969-70 Final Four year. 

Led by the likes of All-Missouri Valley Conference First Team choice Slab Jones (16.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and All-MVC Second Team selection Robert Gunn (14.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg), the Aggies racked up a 22-10 record, which featured an 11-5 showing in the MVC.

Perhaps one of the most memorable games in the history of the program occurred that season when, on Thursday, Feb. 1, the Aggies came oh-so-close to handing the then-18-0 Indiana State Sycamores their first loss of what turned out to be the most famous campaigns in the history of college basketball. 

Greeted by a raucous Pan Am Center congregation, the Sycamores -- led by a senior named Larry Bird -- found themselves on the ropes late in regulation. With Bird and fellow high-scoring star Carl Nicks on the bench after fouling out earlier in the tilt, the Aggies headed to the free throw line up 83-81 with three seconds to go. Unfortunately, NM State misfired at the line and watched as Bob Heaton launched a 50-foot, game-tying shot at the buzzer to send the tilt to overtime. Once in overtime, the Sycamores escaped with an 91-89 win. 

That loss didn't deter the Aggies too much as they won seven of the next 10 games to secure an at-large bid to the 1979 NCAA Tournament. Tabbed as the 10-seed in the midwest region, the Aggies suffered a hard-fought 81-78 overtime defeat at the hands of seventh-seeded Weber State. Indiana State famously made it all the way to the title game where Bird and the Sycamores fell to the Magic Johnson-led Michigan State Spartans, 75-64. 

That edition of the Aggies was the only team from the 1975-76 season until the 1989-90 campaign to earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament. 

For complete coverage of New Mexico State men's basketball throughout the 2019-20 season and beyond, visit NMStateSports.com