Michael Lyons rocked back and forth during Air Force’s postgame singing of the alma mater, his eyes still fixed in a locked-in stare. The senior wasn’t thinking about the 45 points he just scored, but about the three points his team needed and couldn’t find.
“I was just thinking about everything we could have done better,” Lyons said. “Not necessarily in the last minute, but the whole game. Thinking about things we could have changed but can’t.”
There were plenty of things Air Force would have changed in an 89-86 heartbreaking loss to No. 24 Colorado State on Saturday at a sold-out Clune Arena, but Lyons wasn’t one of them.
The senior had 25 points at halftime – all in a stretch of 12 minutes, 2 seconds – and ended up with more points than anyone in the history of the building.
But while Lyons was the individual highlight, the Rams (21-4, 8-2 Mountain West) were too much as a team – particularly on the inside. Five players scored in double figures for Colorado State, led by Dorian Green’s 22.
The Rams outrebounded Air Force 39-23, held an 18-4 edge in second-chance points and made 26-of-34 free throws while the Falcons made just 7-of-12. But despite those advantages, it took everything the Rams had to hold onto a 10-point lead down the stretch. Todd Fletcher scored all of his 11 points in the final minutes and Air Force (15-9, 6-5) nearly pulled out a miracle.
“We didn’t lose it, we just ran out of time,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said.
When the 5,824 in attendance were filing out of the Clune Arena, all the talk was of Lyons.
“He’s a heck of a player,” said Colorado State’s Pierce Hornung, who posted the only line that could rival Lyons as he scored 13 points with 16 rebounds, four assists and no turnovers. “He was on fire.”
Rams’ coach Larry Eustachy called Lyons an NBA player and Lyons’ teammates were in awe.
“It was spectacular,” Fletcher said. “I was on the bench in foul trouble in the first half and I was just watching and saying, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable.’ It was a sight to see, that’s for sure.”
Lyons, who leads the Mountain West with 19.2 points per game, scored his first points on a layup out of a timeout when Air Force fell behind 6-0 in the opening 84 seconds. A jumper followed on the next possession and he was off to the races.
“I hit a couple shots in a row and that got me going,” Lyons said. “I kind of rode that wave the whole game.”
Behind Lyons, Air Force posted an 11-2 run and led for nearly three minutes midway through the first half.
That would be the Falcons’ only advantage. The Rams extended their lead to 48-40 on a long Green 3-pointer just before the half and kept their hosts at arm’s length through the second half, though Air Force missed several chances to cut further into the lead.
Afterward, Pilipovich could only marvel about how much his team had improved in the past month since a 39-point loss at Colorado State, and talk about his senior star.
The star, however, didn’t want the praise.
“I know games like this don’t come around very often,” Lyons said. “Maybe when I’m like 30 or something I’ll look back and say that was a good game. I’d be bragging about it if we won. But since we didn’t, if anybody doesn’t already know they won’t hear it from me, because I won’t be saying anything about it.”