SAN JOSE, Calif. – In the final seconds, Dave Pilipovich brought fist bumps down the line of the Air Force bench. He then took some to the scorer’s table. He even offered one to an official.
This was a feeling this coach hadn’t experienced in three years, and he wanted to share it with everyone.
“It’s been a while,” Pilipovich said. “It’s been a while.”
The Falcons’ 78-71 victory ended a 24-game road losing streak in the Mountain West that stretched back to a win on Jan. 28, 2015 on this same court.
It didn’t come easy. Air Force (7-10, 1-4 Mountain West) hit a barrage of early 3s to build an 18-point first-half lead before a 2-for-21 snap left them trailing 45-42.
But Pervis Louder’s 12 points off the bench – all in the second half – and a career-high 19 points from emerging center Ryan Swan kept the Falcons afloat and 18 second-half free throws put them over a hump that had for so long been insurmountable.
“I’ve always been taught that this is a game of runs,” said Swan, a sophomore who has reached double figures in all five of his starts. “You’ll make yours, the opponent will make theirs. We were able to stay calm, grind it out and get the win.”
San Jose State (3-14, 0-6) did Air Force few favors. The Spartans’ 58.3 percent shooting in the first half was a season high and their nine turnovers were a far cry from the 20.5 they averaged over their past six games.
But San Jose State missed five straight free throws midway through the second half, which gave Air Force the opportunity to retake the lead.
Senior Trevor Lyons, who has started the majority of the games during the long streak, hit two straight shots to put Air Force in front, and it didn’t trail again.
“Even when we were down, we knew we were going to pull it off,” said senior Jacob Van, who was a little-used freshman reserve when Air Force last won on the road in the conference. “We knew that we were the better team and that we were going to come back and do everything we needed to do to get a win. We kept that mentality even when we fell behind late in the game.”
Van scored 14, going 5-of-6 from the free-throw line. He also matched a career-best three 3-pointers, as the Falcons went 13-of-33 from behind the arc.
Lavelle Scottie scored 11 points to round out the Falcons in double figures. San Jose State also had four, led by Ryan Welage’s 17 points that included a four-point play that started the game-changing run in the first half that eliminated the large deficit.
Air Force had been building toward this result. Since a horrid mid-December slump that included three consecutive losses of 19 or more points against Division I opponents, the Falcons have found the combinations to compete. Their margins of defeat to open the conference season progressively dropped from 29 to 12 to 11 to five before finally earning just their second Mountain West win in their past 15 regular-season contests.
Those postgame handshakes continued off the court and through a victory song rarely sung in away locker rooms.
“We’re going back happy, we’re going back motivated,” Van said. “We need to keep this feeling going, for sure.”
Added Swan, “With all the momentum we’ve been getting, it was just good to get this reward. Now we need to take it up to CSU. On to the next one.”