Michael Lyons last-gasp 3-point shot was hanging for a tantalizing second on the rim. He believed it would drop. So did his coach, Dave Pilipovich.
“Ah, it felt good,” Lyons said. “I thought it was going in.”
The ball rolled harmlessly off the rim as the buzzer sounded, dooming Air Force to a 72-69 loss Sunday to Wichita State at Clune Arena.
The shot told, in an instant, the story of the game. Air Force came close to delivering defeat to the unbeaten Shockers. The Falcons nearly rode 18 points by Mike Fitzgerald and 17 points by Taylor Broekhuis to what would have been one of the more impressive victories in the program’s recent history.
The Falcons will have to settle for almost. Wichita State climbs to 8-0 while Air Force drops to 6-2.
Pilipovich had wondered when his team’s free-throw struggles would cost the Falcons. He found out with 7 seconds left and the Falcons trailing, 70-68.
Broekhuis had enjoyed a superb game, sinking 6-of-9 shots from the field while battling the Shockers brawny big men. But Broekhuis kept clanging shots from the line. He had missed 4-of-8 free throws.
He had two free throws and the chance to tie the score. He missed the first and made the second, leaving Air Force down by one.
Pilipovich took a philosophical approach to the miss.
“He’s not going to let that happen again,” he said.
Broekhuis, a 6-foot-10 senior center, offered no excuses.
“It’s a free throw,” he said. “You should step up and make it. … There’s really not much you can say. I know it was a miss when we really needed a make.”
After Broekhuis made his second shot, Wichita State’s Malcolm Armstead sank two free throws to set up the drama of the final seconds.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall wanted his team to foul point guard Todd Fletcher, but for some reason his players missed the command.
Fletcher dribbled right in front of Marshall, who watched as no one from the Shockers delivered a foul.
With 2 seconds left, Fletcher passed to Lyons, open at the top of the key. Lyons had a good look, but the shot failed to drop.
Most of the game was close. Air Force battled to a tie going into halftime despite Lyons severe shooting troubles. He missed all eight of his first-half shots.
The Shockers pushed to a 60-50 lead with 8:41 left, but Pilipovich later said he could see a sense of calm determination in his team. Lyons led a rally that ended when he made a 22-foot 3-pointer with 32 seconds left, cutting Wichita State’s lead to 70-68.
Wichita State’s Marshall was relieved a few minutes after the final buzzer. Lyons came into the game averaging 20 points while shooting 52 percent from the field. He missed 13-of-17 shots against the Shockers.
“Thank goodness,” Marshall said. “We don’t win if he has his normal day.”
No moral victory
Fitzgerald, who made 7-of-10 shots, was not satisfied with coming close to a win.
“You don’t like the moral victories any more,” he said. “We’re tired of that.”
Marshall impressed with Falcons
Wichita State’s Marshall expected a battle on Sunday.
After watching film of Air Force, Marshall he noticed “the freedom with which they shoot the basketball, and their matchup zone is a riddle.”
The Falcons were picked to finish last in the Mountain West. Marshall believes that prediction will not come true.
“They’re going to win a lot of games,” he said. “I don’t see them being a ninth-place team.”