The Pan American Center comes back to life during Pack the Pan Am III


Zack Jimenez

NMSU’s Jemerrio Jones shoots a pair of free-throws in front of a sold out Pan American Center crowd. Students are seen “putting their guns up” in hopes of a made free-throw. Jones has been on a tear recently; having another 20 rebound game.

Merriam-Webster has it that the definition of the word nostalgia is ‘a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or some past period or irrecoverable condition.’

Whether you attended New Mexico State during either of Lou Henson’s stints, the Neil McCarthy era or were apart of ‘Reggie Nation,’ Saturday night’s game between Grand Canyon and NMSU was a reminder of how much Las Cruces can love its college basketball.

With 15:00 minutes left in the game Saturday night, it was time for New Mexico State to make a run back into the game.

After trailing GCU for the entire second half to that point by as much as 13, the Aggies were in grave danger of taking a home loss in front of 12,989 for the third-ever “Pack the Pan Am,” game.

The Aggies got a couple scores to cut the lead down to nine but with GCU shooting the ball well from the field, there was a sense of desperation in the air – one that had not been put in the arena by any Western Athletic Conference team in quite some time.

Sensing a need for defensive stops, the Aggie faithful brought the arena volume to a level only folks that have been around NMSU basketball for years had experienced before.

For the next 15 minutes, Aggie fans stayed on their feet and completely willed a team that could only muster up two 3-pointers and shoot a porous 36 percent back into the game NMSU finally dug themselves out of the hole and won 74-70.

“I feel more a part of the history of New Mexico State basketball after playing tonight because I have heard so many stories about back in the day and what it was like to play here, so I was looking forward to feeling it and I don’t feel like we would’ve won the game without them,” NMSU head coach Chris Jans said after the game. “It’s human nature to rev it up a little bit when you have that many people cheering for you. We needed them and our guys responded.”

The Pack the Pan Am promotion has happened two other times and did attract similar crowd sizes, but the Aggies cruised last year against UMKC 94-71 and beat a lesser Chicago State team in 2015.

Director of Athletics Mario Moccia heads the promotion, selling nearly 5,000 tickets for this game on his own, something other athletic directors do not do. Moccia’s leadership has set the tone for all of the successes the athletic department has had on and off the field, culminating with another win Saturday night. 

“Not only was this great from a revenue standpoint, I mean we eclipsed the all-time individual game ticket revenue record for the last 18 years, but I could not thank the businesses who bought the tickets and the individuals who bought the tickets enough,” Moccia said. “The energy they brought, it was fantastic. I really hope that people enjoyed themselves and will come back for the last two games because we could be playing for something big.”

The Aggies went on a 31-14 the last 15:27 of the game.

Assistant coach Lou Gudino had a tough time relaying defensive calls to the other side of the floor, officials’ whistles could not be heard at times (oh boy were they blown a lot) and the student section drowned out any noise that the 350 GCU students that were bussed in from Phoenix made.

Jemerrio Jones scored 27 points and 20 rebounds and credits the atmosphere for the comeback on a night where NMSU was tested by the Lopes really for the first time in Las Cruces since GCU entered the WAC in 2013.

“We needed the crowd. Shoutout to the fans.”

Indeed so. Great work Las Cruces.

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