Air Force can't capitalize on an opportunity at Colorado State

By Brent Briggeman Published: January 18, 2014 | 8:15 pm 0

FORT COLLINS - The orders for Air Force were that Daniel Bejarano was to receive no breathing room.

He still found it.

The Colorado State guard hit a 3-pointer, grabbed a steal and hit another 3 on successive possessions in the final 2 minutes, 4 seconds, rescuing the Rams from a late deficit and sending the Falcons to disappointing 74-68 loss on Saturday.

"We said he can't breathe," said Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, whose team trailed by 11 in the first half and led by five with 5:08 remaining. "You've got to be on him. He's such a great player. You have to be tight on him. We just gave him too much room to breathe."

Bejarano, a junior transfer from Arizona, scored a game-high 27 and put the Rams up by a point with the first 3 of the sequence. Then he stole an errant pass from Justin Hammonds and, on the ensuing possession, stepped back from defender Tre' Coggins to hit a long 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire.

Air Force (9-8, 3-3 Mountain West) twice cut that four-point deficit to two, but Colorado State (12-7, 3-3) eventually closed it out with free throws.

The game was far more like last year's 89-86 thriller between these teams at Air Force than it was a 39-point beatdown the Rams put on the Falcons here at Moby Arena.

It looked like it might be lopsided early. The Rams steamrolled their way to an 11-point lead behind the large-bodied J.J. Avila, who scored 21 points.

But Air Force hung around, largely thanks to early scoring contributions from Kamryn Williams, who had 16.

Early in the second half is when Max Yon caught fire and Air Force stormed into the lead.

"We came in with a chip on our shoulder," said Yon, who had a game-high 23 for the Falcons - 18 coming in the second half.

The lead changed hands six times in the second half, but ultimately Air Force couldn't do the little things to stay ahead. In a six-point game, Air Force was outscored 16-9 in points off turnovers and 11-5 on second-chance points. Colorado State went 23 of 32 from the free-throw line, whereas Air Force was just 11 of 14.

"If we would have taken care of the ball better we probably would have had a better outcome," said Williams, who had seven rebounds and four assists to go with his 16 points.

Marek Olesinski contributed 18 points and nine rebounds for the Falcons, who had just four points from leading scorer Coggins on 2-of-10 shooting.

The physical difference, so great a year ago, has closed between the teams. Air Force was outrebounded just 35-33 and blocked four shots compared to Colorado State's three.

But Air Force still needs to close the most important gap - the deficit at the end of games.

That's what Bejarano and Larry Eustachy's Rams did on this day.

"When it comes down to the wire we've just got to be more solid with the ball, limit turnovers and hit shots down the stretch," Yon said. "We can take away some good things from this game that we're good enough to compete with anybody. The biggest thing, though, is how we're going to finish in the end. It hurts, but we're going to fix it."

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