In the history of Air Force basketball, the Falcons have beaten ranked opponents only three times. Two of those wins have been in the past two years, at home, against San Diego State. On Saturday the Falcons thrilled a loud crowd of just over 5,000 with a 70-67 win over the #22 Aztecs. The win upped the Falcons' record to 14-6 overall, and more importantly, to 5-2 in the Mountain West, setting up a road game Wednesday night at New Mexico that will be for a share of first place in the conference.
"We're prepared to play good teams," said senior guard Todd Fletcher. "It's second nature now. We've seen so many over four years."
Fletcher got Air Force off to a good start with three early 3-pointers, on the way to 11 first-half points. The Falcons ran off eight straight points for a 27-17 lead in the later stages of the first half, but the Aztecs whittled the margin to just five, 35-30, at the half.
SDSU came out strong to start the second, running off nine points for a 39-37 lead. The Aztecs would build the lead to 45-40 on the strength of their offensive rebounding, converting many into second chance points.
"We changed our defense a little bit to maybe not give them as many opportunities," said coach Dave Pilipovich. And it worked, as the Falcons then went on a 19-2 spurt to take a 59-47 lead with 9:30 remaining.
But the Aztecs chipped away again, eventually tying the game twice in the final two and a half minutes. Mike Lyons would then put Air Force up 68-66 with 1:30 remaining, the last of his team-high 20 points. Jamaal Franklin, who lead all scorers with 25, then missed one of two free throws with :51 left. On the ensuing possession, Falcon sophomore Kamryn Williams was fouled driving the lane, and he calmly hit both shots for a 70-67 lead. Williams was outstanding off the bench, playing much better than his six points and two rebounds would attest.
In the final seconds, SDSU would get two shots at sending the game to overtime, but Franklin and James Rahon both missed 3-pointers, and the Aztecs slipped behind Air Force in the conference standings with a 4-3 mark
"It's fun going against a good team," Lyons said. "Close games are always hard. We were picked last (in the conference), so we've got nothing to lose."
Coach Pilipovich was asked about there being no lack of fight in either team. "There is not. Their team--good gracious. Our cadet athletes, they're just special. They're tough. Their character, their leadership. And they coach each other a lot."
Things were quite as rosy for the Falcon hockey team. They slipped to third place in Atlantic Hockey after only gaining one point against 11th-place American International. AIC goalie Ben Meisner stopped 50 shots on Friday, helping his squad earn a 2-2 tie. On Saturday, Richard Leitner scored 18 seconds into overtime, giving AIC a 2-1 victory. Air Force now moves on to a road trip against 2nd-place Mercyhurst next weekend.
Colorado College also failed to earn a win, as they went to Anchorage and tied the Seawolves twice, 2-2, and 3-3. Andrew Hamburg scored the Tigers' second goal on Friday, his first of the year not against a team coached by a Serratore. His first five goals were against Air Force and Bemidji State. The Tigers remain 9th in the WCHA, and continue their rivalry with Denver this weekend. Friday's game is at Denver at 7:30 pm, with the rematch at World Arena Saturday at 7pm.