BOULDER • It was going to take a quality opponent to show Air Force what it has this season.
And make no mistake, No. 23 Colorado is quality and then some.
The Buffaloes – paced by 20 points from freshman Josh Scott of Monument – came at the Falcons with an attack that was athletic and long, eventually pulling away 89-74 Sunday night at the Coors Event Center.
So what did all this show Air Force?
That these Falcons have a little moxie.
Air Force (5-1) answered every Colorado (5-0) run for the game’s first 30 minutes, shot 57 percent from 3-point range in the first half and displayed poise in front of a rowdy crowd of 10,607.
“Our guys showed a lot of resolve,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “They showed some toughness. They came out and battled.
“Our effort, our toughness, our competitiveness – I love it, I love it with our guys.”
That’s not to call the loss a moral victory, but no other label is quite as apt. After all, this is an Air Force program that has failed to win 30 percent of its conference games in 23 of the past 30 seasons – and a mid-major conference at that. This effort came on the floor of the defending Pac-12 tournament champions who look much improved.
“It’s a good learning experience for us,” said Taylor Broekhuis, who scored eight points for the Falcons but was limited to 24 minutes by foul trouble. “It’s a ranked team on the road early in the year, and you can’t ask for a better environment to play in. So it was important for us to come out and have a good showing.”
The good showing included 20 points from Michael Lyons and a career-high matching 18 points for Todd Fletcher, which included 4-of-7 from behind the arc.
The Falcons trailed 41-39 at halftime and were within 58-56 with 12:02 remaining before everything fizzled. Colorado finally pulled away with a seven-point burst that was punctuated by an emphatic dunk from Andre Roberson.
Roberson, who scored 18 points, was one of four Buffaloes with at least 15.
Broekhuis’ foul trouble and a 4-of-16 showing from 3-point range over the final 20 minutes marked the major difference down the stretch, as did Colorado’s ability to disrupt the offensive flow and force several bad shots.
“If they’re going to make jump shots over our hands from 3 for 40 minutes, we’ll shake their hands and say congratulations, because we got beat,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “Very few teams can do that. What we can’t have happen is their shooters’ wide-open looks.”
From a talent perspective, it was obvious that the Buffaloes were operating on a different level. They outrebounded their guests 46-19, leading to an 18-4 advantage in second-chance points. They also outscored the Falcons 40-18 in the paint.
But these challenges aren’t going away anytime soon for the Falcons as Wichita State, Florida and Richmond are upcoming on a nonconference schedule that doesn’t include many more opponents like the season’s first five – Army, Citadel, Western State, Regis and Montana State.
“I think we know where we are now,” Fletcher said. “And more importantly, what we need to work on.”