BOULDER – Air Force hit 3s, grabbed steals and put an early scare into Colorado on Sunday.
But the Falcons couldn’t mask their deficiencies on the glass, and the Buffaloes’ consistency in that area rendered all else moot in an 81-69 victory at Coors Events Center.
Colorado’s 42-21 edge on the glass led to a 15-4 advantage in second-chance points. In a 12-point game, that was everything.
“To get outrebounded (by) 21, there’s a glaring stat right there,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “Maybe that’s Pac-12 vs. Mountain West or maybe that’s Colorado vs. Air Force, but we’ve got to be a little more gritty there. We can't be outrebounded 21 and have a chance to win the game.”
The Falcons (3-2) were creative in making it interesting, though.
As defenders sagged in the first half to take away Air Force’s back-door cuts, the Falcons launched a barrage of 3s – making 8 of 15 and taking a 34-33 halftime edge.
Ryan Manning hit five 3s to score a team-high 17 in his return to Boulder after tearing an ACL here two years ago.
“I was talking about it with my trainer before the game and said I’ve got some demons to release on this court,” said Manning, who also led Air Force with five rebounds. “I just wanted to come out and have a good game. Luckily my teammates found me early and I kind of got on fire and just rode it.”
The Falcons led 7-1 in steals, turned it over just 10 times, shot 89 percent from the line and 42.3 percent from 3. Against most teams, that will work.
“If they play like they did tonight, they’re going to win some games this year,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said.
After halftime, Colorado (6-0) not only began chasing shooters off the 3-point line but also cleaned up its offense. It reduced turnovers (committing nine in the first half, six in the second) and sharing the ball (four assists at halftime, 13 in the second).
It was the second straight year the game looked like this. Last year at Clune Arena, the teams were tied 48-48 with about 10 minutes remaining when CU pulled away with a 23-10 run. This year the Buffs led 49-48 with about 14 minutes left when an 11-3 surge provided some separation.
“For the most part, I thought we held with them and did what we were supposed to do,” Manning said. “We just got beat on the boards. That was the biggest thing for us.”
George King had 25 points and 15 rebounds – including six on the offensive side – to pace Colorado.
“Every time we play Air Force, as we get ready for the jump ball I think, ‘Why the heck did I schedule these guys?’ " coach Tad Boyle said.
Colorado Springs product D’Shawn Schwartz, a Sand Creek graduate, logged 19 minutes for Colorado as Dominique Collier played sparingly because of foul trouble. Schwartz, a freshman, scored seven points with two rebounds and an assist.
This was the only game against a team from a Power Five conference for Air Force this season.
“For us, we want to win these games,” said center Frank Toohey, who had 15 points and four rebounds. “We’re moving past just being happy playing well. We want to win these games."