BOISE, Idaho • Boise State played like its postseason life was on the line.
Air Force didn’t, and in doing so fell 77-65 and likely lost any chance it had of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Falcons didn’t match the Broncos’ gusto in falling behind 11-0 to start the game Wednesday and then giving up an 18-4 run to start the second half.
“It was our fault,” said senior Todd Fletcher, who led Air Force with 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting. “They came out aggressive and with great intensity and we didn’t match it and we paid for it.”
It didn’t help Air Force (15-10, 6-6 Mountain West) that Michael Lyons was uncharacteristically off his game. The senior guard, who scored 37 points in a win over Boise State on Jan. 19 and put up 45 points Saturday against CSU, made just 2-of-9 shots and scored 10 points. The right-handed Lyons sprained his right thumb early in the game when he tried to reach for the ball on defense and hit a Boise State player.
He didn’t blame his performance on the injury, but he clearly wasn’t himself in playing just 11 minutes in the second half while missing all four field-goal attempts.
“It wasn’t tough on me at all,” said Lyons, whose thumb was taped at halftime. “I’ve had it before.”
Lyons did match a career high with five assists, finding open teammates as the Broncos draped him with defenders.
Air Force overcame its first-half deficit, mounting a 13-2 run to briefly take the lead. Boise State came back and took a 35-34 advantage into the locker room.
The second big run was too much.
“We played matchup, we played zone, we played man … we played it all,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “They were just good. They were really on.”
Boise State (17-8, 5-6) had spent halftime talking about a need to be aggressive after not attempting a free throw in the first half, but coach Leon Rice had no problem with the two quick 3-pointers that started the run.
“You have to let the shooters have the freedom,” Rice said. “Whack, whack, they hit the first two, and that got things rolling.”
Anthony Drmic led the second-half onslaught by scoring all but two of his game-high 23 points after the break. Jeff Elorriaga, who missed the teams’ first meeting, scored 14 of his 17 in the first half.
Taylor Broekhuis joined Fletcher and Lyons in double figures for Air Force, scoring 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
The Broncos shot 56 percent in the second half while limiting the Falcons to 36.7 percent after the visitors had made 57.1 percent in the first half.
“Their physicality took us out of offense at times and took us out of sync,” Pilipovich said.
If Air Force — ranked 72nd in RPI entering Wednesday — wasn’t already out of position for an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, it almost certainly is now.
Boise State — ranked No. 44 in RPI (there are 37 at-large bids) — on the other hand, remained very much in contention.
“Us seniors knew how important this was,” Fletcher said. “We needed this. We have our aspirations on going to the tournament and we knew this was an important game to make that happen.”
Home/road disparity grows
Air Force defeated Boise State by 11 points at home. On Wednesday it lost to the Broncos by 13 points on the road.
That’s how things have gone this season.
In conference games, Clune Arena has been worth, on average, a 22-point swing for Air Force, which has lost at UNLV, Nevada and Boise State but defeated all three at home. It also lost to Colorado State by 39 points on the road and played the Rams within three points at home.
What accounts for the disparity?
“That’s a good question, I don’t know,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “I guess we should play more home games.”
Air Force is 11-2 at home and 3-6 on the road.
Boise State gave Air Force little room to run its offense, colliding with cutters, pressuring the ball on the interior and in general frustrating the Falcons as they made just 11-of-30 second-half shots.
“That’s what helped us offensively, getting those early stops, leading out in transition and getting those open baskets,”guard Anthony Drmic said.
Boise State was also boosted by memories of its lopsided loss at Air Force.
“We held them to 91 last time, so we figured we better do some different things,” coach Leon Rice said. “We just wanted to cut off some of the angles a little bit better than we did last time.”
Air Force committed 11 turnovers while forcing just six.
Mid-range shots out of style
Want an indication how much the game of basketball has been changed by the 3-point line? Check out Boise State’s first-half line: 15 points on five 3-pointers, 20 points in the lane, zero mid-range jumpers.
Air Force wasn’t much different, having attempted 12 of its first 18 shots behind the 3-point line.
That wasn’t what the Falcons had intended to do.
“We thought they couldn’t guard us off the dribble and we wanted to attack the rim,” Pilipovich said. “When we did we started to get some scores. But we weren’t consistent on it.”
Good time for a rest
Now that Michael Lyons is nursing an injured thumb on his shooting hand, Air Force has picked a great time for its open date in the second half of the conference season.
Without a game Saturday, Pilipovich said his team would have Thursday and Saturday off, with a workout Friday and then return Sunday to prepare for Wyoming at home Tuesday.