With three New Mexico players converging on Air Force senior guard Mike Lyons, fellow senior Todd Fletcher found himself open in the right corner. Lyons found Fletcher, and his three-point shot with 3.5 seconds remaining lifted the Falcons to an 89-88 win over the #12 Lobos, for the biggest win in Air Force hoops history. In what may have been the most exciting game ever played in Clune Arena, the Falcons overcame an early 9-point deficit, and the win was the team's second over a ranked opponent this season.
As has been the case in nearly all the Falcon victories this season, a new name stepped up big. This time it was substitute forward Marek Olesinski, who scored 15 first-half points on 5 of 5 shooting, including 4 three-pointers.
The first half ended tied at 47. New Mexico made their first seven shots on their way to an 18-9 lead. The Falcons then chipped away, with the help of Olesinski, who scored 11 of Air Force's first 29 points. Back to back threes by Fletcher gave Air Force their first lead at 40-37.
In the second half Lyons came alive, scoring seven of the team's first nine points on his way to a game-high 30. The Lobos nudged ahead once again, until Air Force scored seven straight to tie the score at 80 with 3:22 left. UNM moved ahead 87-83 before Lyons hit a three with 12 seconds left. Kendall Williams then made one of two free throws, setting the stage for Fletcher's heroics at the end.
Both teams shot over 56% for the game. Air Force made 15 of 31 from three-point range, while New Mexico was 15 of 33. Combined, the two teams had 52 assists to just 14 turnovers, speaking to the quality of the play. Fletcher finished with 21 points. Williams and Tony Snell each had 21 to lead four Lobos in double figures.
"For our guys to end it that way was pretty neat, 'cause they've been through so much, and they've done so much here," head coach Dave Pilipovich said.
The team had lost six of their last eight coming into Saturday, including a very disappointing effort the previous Saturday at Fresno State. "We felt good as a team coming into this one," Fletcher said. "I think we're back on track now."
The win improved Air Force's record to 17-12 overall. They finished 13-2 at home, with the two losses by a combined six points. Their 8-8 conference mark is good for sixth place, and they will play #3 UNLV in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament this week in Las Vegas.
"We're going in there, almost, with some house money," Pilipovich said. "We're going to be good offensively, and we'll work on some defensive adjustments. And we're going to continue to ride our seniors."
All the home teams swept their opening round series in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. As a result, Air Force will take on Canisius this coming weekend in the conference quarterfinals. Game one of the best 2-of-3 series will be Friday night at 7 pm at Cadet Ice Arena.
Colorado College won their season finale 4-3 at Michigan Tech. The Tigers finished eighth in the WCHA. They will play a road playoff series this weekend at Denver, as the Pioneers finished in the #5 spot with a 6-1 win over Alaska-Anchorage.