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Air Force dominates down the stretch to end seven-year skid against Colorado State

January 17, 2018 Updated: January 18, 2018 at 6:27 am
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Air Force forward Ryan Swan, center, drives the lane to the net between Colorado State guard Anthony Bonner, left, and forward Nico Carvacho in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo. (Austin Humphreys/The Coloradoan via AP)

FORT COLLINS - Long before coach Dave Pilipovich was soaked by a barrage of water cups in a long-time-coming locker room celebration, he addressed his team in a dire situation.

Air Force had fallen behind by eight points in the second half against a team no current Falcon player or coach had beaten. But what Pilipovich saw during a timeout led him to believe they could win.

And they did, 76-71.

"I went to the huddle and they said, 'Coach, we got this,'" Pilipovich said. "They weren't looking down or scared. No, it was, 'We got this.' That gave me confidence. It was awesome."

From that point on, Air Force outscored the Rams 30-17 to leap over a hump that had long tripped them. The Falcons hadn't won at Moby Arena since 2009 and hadn't beaten Colorado State anywhere since 2011, a span of 12 games.

"It's just great to get a win against them," said Trevor Lyons, a senior who scored 22 points on 7-of-9 shooting. "Especially on their home court."

Lyons provided the early scoring Wednesday when his teammates struggled early. He then added four points in the tense final 79 seconds. He also had four steals and assisted on a pair of Jacob Van 3s in the final four minutes.

"Trevor Lyons put us on his back today," Pilipovich said.

Van, also a senior, scored all 15 of his points in the second half for Air Force (8-10, 2-4 Mountain West). The sophomore tandem of Lavelle Scottie (14 points, six rebounds) and Ryan Swan (12 points, six rebounds) continued their transformative play for this program.

It didn't matter that the Falcons started the game 1 for 16 from 3-point range, were outrebounded 49-37 or were outscored 34-22 in the paint. They controlled what they could, hitting 14 of 17 free throws, turned the ball over just eight times and used their depth to lead the Rams 37-20 in bench scoring.

But more than anything for this team was the newfound belief - born of a month of steady improvement - that this could happen after the Rams threatened to break open a game that had been tied at 38, 40, 42, 44 and 46 before they jumped ahead 54-46.

"In the past other teams have had those runs against us and we kind of give up a little bit and let off the throttle," Van said. "This time we turned it around. We knew just because they went on a run it wasn't the end of the world. We knew we'd go on a run, too."

In December the Falcons ended a two-year road drought with a win at Denver. On Saturday they snapped a three-year, 24-game Mountain West road skid.

Now they've won back-to-back road games for the first time since 2011.

"This is huge," Van said. "This is one of the teams we were out to get since the beginning of the year. I haven't beat them since I've been here, so I knew that we needed to get them at least once. Especially at their place."

It was the first loss against Air Force for Colorado State (10-10, 3-4) coach Larry Eustachy, who had been 10-0 against the Falcons.

Eustachy, whose team shot 37 percent, missed a chance to move into second place on the Rams' all-time win list.

"The game unfolded the way I thought it would and we had a chance to close the door," Eustachy said. "Give (Air Force) credit for some spectacular plays to beat us."

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