Updated: January 26, 2013 at 12:00 am
LARAMIE, Wyo. • Air Force celebrated in someone else’s locker room for the first time in a long time.
The Falcons did nothing spectacular, but simply outlasted Wyoming 57-48 on Saturday night for their first conference road win since Feb. 15, 2012 and just their fifth in the past five years.
“It’s like someone took a refrigerator off our back,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said.
Taylor Broekhuis scored 16 points with nine rebounds and his two free throws with 30 seconds remaining gave the Falcons (12-6, 3-2 Mountain West) the separation it desperately sought in the final four minutes as an 11-point advantage was whittled to as little as five.
For Broekhuis, the shot was the final salvo in an eventful night. He was ridden mercilessly by a crowd of 8,404 after an early air ball on a 3-point attempt. His 3 on the next possession did little to quiet a raucous student section. The free throws did.
“It’s always fun to silence the crowd, especially after you shoot an air ball — kind of give them a little hush down,” Broekhuis said.
Michael Lyons added 11, moving into seventh place on Air Force’s all-time scoring list with 1,324 points. DeLovell Earls tied his career high with 10 points.
Wyoming (15-4, 2-4) kept itself in the game early behind forward Leonard Washington, who scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half.
“He looks like he should be in the NFL, right? He was really good,” Pilipovich said.
Air Force adjusted its zone defense, adding another man on the back line to double Washington and limit his touches. He was still a factor elsewhere, finishing with nine rebounds and three blocks, but with him more or less negated offensively Wyoming had to look outside, where it shot just 5-of-28 from 3-point range — the Cowboys’ most 3-point attempts this season.
The defensive effort in general contributed mightily for Air Force as Wyoming couldn’t penetrate the zone and often settled for forced shots deep in the shot clock.
“That’s on me,” said Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, whose team has failed to score more than 50 points in three of its four league losses. “I’ve got to find a way (for this team) to produce more points.”
The Falcons committed just two second-half turnovers, but shot 36.4 percent in the second half. Five missed free throws prevented them from putting away a Wyoming team that was playing just 48 hours after losing at UNLV.
A steal by Mike Fitzgerald with 1:08 remaining and Broekhuis’ free throws finally helped close it.
“We were up and we had a chance to get one,” Broekhuis said. “I didn’t want to let this one slip away and neither did anyone else on the floor.”
It’s early in the season, but Air Force put itself within a game of first place in the Mountain West standings and in a three-way tie — along with Colorado State and UNLV — for third. Of course, the Falcons haven’t faced the league’s two front-runners, New Mexico and San Diego State.
“We’re now maybe in that upper top instead of being down at the bottom,” Pilipovich said. “And we’ve got a home game coming up (against Fresno State on Wednesday).”