OPINION | WALLY HALL: There’s no backing down from these Aggies

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Johnny Keith was unique.

He was his own man. Afraid of nothing.

For several years he was the buffer between the Oklahoma football coach and the media. Later, he pulled the same duties at Texas A&M for Jackie Sherrill.

The "Ranger," as he was known by the masses, wasn't a great sports information director, but he was a great guy.

When he told a few reporters one night he was going to retire in Las Cruces, New Mexico, the immediate question was why.

Las Cruces is a city of 100,000 and sits right in the middle of a desert. It does have low humidity.

Ranger did retire there and played the piano in a bar until he died in 2011 at the age of 78.

By all accounts, he was happy.

When asked why Las Cruces, Ranger said simply, everyone has a story, so no one asks what yours is.

That came to mind Friday in a news conference with four of the New Mexico State Aggies and head coach Chris Jans, who will face the Arkansas Razorbacks tonight at 7:40 Central in the NCAA Tournament.

The No. 12-seeded Aggies knocked off No. 5 UConn 70-63.

Jans is rumored to be in on a job in the SEC.

The man can coach. In his five seasons at New Mexico State, he's 121-31 and won the WAC four times.

He was at Bowling Green for a season and went 21-12, but he was fired for inappropriate behavior from an incident at a bar.

There's two years missing from his coaching resume until he showed up with a second chance in Las Cruces.

He must believe in forgiveness or he kneels at the transfer portal. He has 10 transfers on his roster, including Teddy Allen who had 37 of the Aggies points, making 10 of 24 from the field, including 4 of 7 on threes and he was 13 of 13 on free throws.

Las Cruces may be the perfect fit for the Aggies who seem a lot like a Second Chance U.

This is the 23-year-old Allen's fifth college in five years. He's just a junior.

He began his career at West Virginia, where he redshirted his sophomore year before transferring to Wichita State, but in the summer of 2019 was arrested for domestic violence.

Next up was Nebraska Community College where he led the national junior colleges in scoring.

A transfer to the University of Nebraska was a natural, and after averaging 16.5 points per game he packed his bags again and headed closer to home and to play for Jans.

A native of Mesa Ariz., he has started all but one game, he's been WAC Player of the Week four times, and saying UConn had no answer for him would be like saying Niagara Falls is wet.

Who thinks if Jans gets another job Allen will go with him?

The four Aggies who came to the news conference were asked a simple question: Would they rather be playing someone than Arkansas?

"NO. NO. NO. NO," was the immediate response.

"We don't feel any pressure,' said Johnny McCants, a native of Las Cruces who has played all five seasons for the Aggies.

Vermont wasn't afraid either, and the Catamounts gave the Razorbacks fits most of the night and a big scare at the end until the Hogs survived 75-71.

" I think that they're a pretty good offensive team. They play a lot of iso ball. They don't have a lot of sets, so they go through number one -- I think it's [JD] Notae or something like that," said Sir'Jabari Rice, who has spent his college career with New Mexico State.

The Aggies are not afraid of the big bad SEC or the Hogs, and like some other teams lately, will try to deny Notae the ball and dare the others to beat them.

This is one in which the toughest and fittest survives and advances.

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