Stevens: Lobos Fall at Air Force 89-88 on a Falcon 3-Pointer

March 9, 2013

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New Mexico Lobos Men's Basketball - Mountain West - At Air Force

Saturday: Air Force Falcons 89, New Mexico Lobos 88
Wednesday: 7:30 p.m., New Mexico vs. Wyoming/Nevada winner - Mountain West Tournament - Las Vegas.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

You have to give the Air Force Falcons some big-time credit on this one. The Falcons fought out of a 78-71 hole, survived a Kendall Williams' trey off the glass with 2:04 to go, and were in exactly the position they needed to be in as the clock faded toward zero.

They had the ball needing to hit a trey in the final seconds in order to pull the upset over the No. 11/12 Lobos in Clune Arena.

And the Falcons hit it. UNM's Williams missed the back side of a one-and-one with 12 ticks to play opening the door for Todd Fletcher whose game-winner tickled the net with 3.5 seconds to go.

"They made some big shots," said Lobo Coach Steve Alford. "Sometimes when you come into someone else's house, they make everything. And Air Force made everything.

"Nobody likes to lose and we don't like to lose. But if we are going to lose I want someone to play lights out like Air Force did. They came out and played extremely well and they had some guys come out and make big plays.

"They just shot well. There are some games that are going to be like that."

It was Alford's first loss to Air Force and the crowd in Clune Arena understood the importance of this one-point win over the 2013 Mountain West champions. The Clune crowd stormed the court. The reaction in this opposing gym showed exactly how special a win was over this gutsy New Mexico team.

Any loss obviously isn't good for postseason seeding, but this one is not disastrous for a New Mexico team hoping for a No 1 or No. 2 seeding in the NCAA wars. The Falcons are tough in Clune.

"I thought our guys played really hard," said Alford. "We were very good on the road again. I thought our effort was tremendous.

"I didn't like our defensive execution. I don't know if we played good defense. We gave up 56 percent shooting and 89 points. But they made shots."

The Lobos move on to the Mountain West Tournament being played in the UNLV Rebels Thomas & Mack in Las Vegas. UNM will open Wednesday against the winner of Nevada/Wyoming. The Lobos swept both those MW teams in the regular season.

"We should be a Top 20 basketball team," Alford said of UNM's ranking heading into the MW tourney. "We're the No. 1 seed and we're the favorite. We're relaxed and we're playing well. We're very excited about the tournament coming up in Vegas."

The Falcons ended up shooting 56.4 percent and UNM fired at a hot 58.6 percent. The Falcons' win was aiding by their 12-of-17 effort from the line. UNM was 5-of-11 from the charity stripe. UNM had 29 assists to only eight turnovers. UNM won the board battle, 30-26.

Air Force had 29 bench points to nine for UNM. The Falcons got 30 points from Michael Lyons on 11-of-21 shooting. Fletcher hit 21 points going 6-of-8 from long range. It was clear in the final seconds that Air Force was looking for a game-winner from Fletcher or Lyons.

"We didn't execute on the defensive end the way we are capable of," said Alford.

UNM was fine on offense. The Lobos had four players in double figures: Tony Snell (21), Williams (21), Alex Kirk (16) and Cameron Barstow (12). Kirk had another double-double with 11 rebounds. UNM's Twin Towers continued to produce as Kirk and Barstow combined for 28 points and 18 boards. Chad Adams (9) was the only Lobo off the bench to score.

The Lobos controlled the lead most of the way in the first half. After UNM went up 27-20, the Falcons slowly worked their way into a 41-37 lead outscoring UNM 21-to-10. The teams went into the locker room sharing a 47-all lead.

As the teams closed down on the eight minute mark of the second half, the Lobos were shooting 59.6 percent and the Falcons were gunning at a 57.1 clip. But would the Falcons be able to keep that up as the Lobos applied their home-stretch defense?

Snell was the UNM monster from long range at that point. He hit his sixth trey at 8:01 to hand UNM a 72-69 lead. That score carried into the 7:57 media break. UNM came out of their huddle with a steal and Snell made the Falcons pay with his seventh trey. UNM was up 75-69.

The Falcons got two free throws and UNM's Greenwood hit his third trey of the game: 78-71. Alford called a 30-second timeout at 5:33 after an Air Force trey cut UNM's lead to 80-76. UNM had made six straight field goals at that point.

Greenwood missed long and Air Force's Lyons hit a short jumper: 80-78. That score carried into the final media stop at 3:40.

The Falcons got a layup to form a tie at 82-all. A huge play came at the 2:04 mark when UNM's Williams launched from long range and banked a trey off the glass. UNM was up 85-82. Air Force missed and Barstow cleaned the glass. UNM called time at 1:38.

UNM turned it over. Air Force missed long and Snell got the board. UNM called time with 50 ticks to play. The Lobos didn't score and Air Force's Lyons hit a single free throw: 85-83. Williams went to the line with 19 seconds to go and made both ends of a one-and-one: 87-83.

Air Force's Lyons came down and drilled a trey: 87-86. The Falcons again sent Williams to the line looking at a one-and-one. He made one: 88-86 with 12 seconds to go. Air Force came down and Fletcher knocked down a trey. The Falcons were up 89-88 with 3.5 seconds to go.

A UNM prayer at the buzzer was not answered.