BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — New Mexico State coach Chris Jans was in the hallway of KeyBank Center preparing his pregame speech as Richmond celebrated the day’s first victory by a No. 12 seed in a nearby locker room.
“I stopped and watched them. It gave me chills to think about what that would feel like for us,” he said. “Was really, really hoping we’d get to feel that as well.”
The Aggies did just that.
Teddy Allen scored 37 points and New Mexico State won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time almost three decades, upsetting fifth-seeded Connecticut 70-63 Thursday night to become the second No. 12 seed to advance out of the first round.
The Aggies (27-6) will face fourth-seeded Arkansas on Saturday in the West Region. In their 23rd NCAA appearance, the Aggies won for the first time since beating Syracuse in the first round in 1993.
“I know our fanbase has not been hungry for it,” said Jans, who is in his fifth season at the Las Cruces school. “They’ve been starving for it.”
New Mexico State had not been back to Upstate New York since beating Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. In Buffalo, Allen and the Aggies made another memory.
Allen hit a rainbow 3 off the dribble with 1:40 left in the second half to put New Mexico State up 61-58.
“I don’t really need to feel like I’m in no zone,” Allen said. “That’s just how I play.”
He wasn’t done. After R.J. Cole (20 points) cut the lead to one for UConn (23-10), Allen went back to work.
“I’m a hooper, and right now at the level I’m at, this is the biggest stage, and this will be the worst time to fold,” Allen said.
The 6-foot-6 junior drove hard to the basket and scooped it home while drawing a foul. He popped off the floor and ran over to the sideline to flex for the Aggies’ fans before completing the three-point play for a 66-60 lead with 27 seconds left.
“The types of shots that he hits, some of them were unguardable,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.
The Western Athletic Conference champions followed the tournament’s first 5-12 upset onto the floor. After Richmond eliminated Big Ten champion Iowa, New Mexico State asserted itself against the Huskies from the Big East.
Hurley called Allen “a bucket” the day before his team faced the well-traveled scorer.
The West Virginia (and Wichita State, Nebraska and junior college) transfer made a bunch of them against UConn after starting the game 0 for 6.
Allen made his next five to lead a closing 12-2 run that put the Aggies up 32-22 at halftime. He ended up taking almost half of New Mexico State’s 50 shots (24).
“He’s a bad shot-taker and he’s a bad shot-maker,” Jans said.
The Aggies upped the lead to as many as 14 early in the second half. UConn slowly clawed back and tied it 52 with 5:08 remaining. But the Huskies never led in the second half.
“We knew it was going to be a really, really hard game,” Hurley said. “They obviously got a performance from Teddy Allen today that sent us home.”
Allen finished 4 for 7 from 3 and 13 for 13 on free throws.
“The man is a bucket,” Aggies forward Jimmy McCants said.
New Mexico State: The Aggies more than held their own against UConn on the glass, outrebounding the Huskies 26-25.
Allen said Jans told the team this game would prove whether the Aggies were a soft team.
“I just wanted to come out and prove we ain’t soft,” said Allen, who also had six rebounds.
UConn: Adama Sanogo, the Huskies’ second-leading scorer, never did get going inside. He finished with 10 points and eight rebounds on 4-of-9 shooting.
This is the sixth time in the last 12 NCAA Tournaments more than one No. 12 seed advanced out of the first round.
New Mexico State will try to win two games in an NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1970.
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