Air Force’s fears were confirmed when an MRI revealed a tear in the medial meniscus in the right knee of Michael Lyons.
The senior underwent surgery Thursday morning to repair the tear and will be out for any postseason games that Air Force might play as well as the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a showcase for select college seniors to play in front of NBA and international scouts.
Missing the PIT could prove devastating to Lyons’ professional prospects. He will begin active duty as an Air Force officer after graduation and will have limited opportunities to leave a lasting impression with teams.
"I talked to his family today and his dad said this just makes them feel even better about him coming to Air Force," Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich said. "That tells you what kind of people they are.
"I just feel bad that he couln't walk off the court on his own for the final time here."
Lyons was injured 94 seconds into the Falcons’ 72-56 loss to UNLV in the Mountain West quarterfinals Wednesday. He had just grabbed a rebound and dribbled up the floor in transition when Bryce DeJean-Jones reached around Lyons to successfully swat the ball away from behind near midcourt. Lyons said after the game that his knee was injured just as DeJean-Jones made the steal.
The Runnin’ Rebels converted a layup as Lyons fell and remained on the floor. Lyons didn’t return and UNLV immediately went on a 24-7 run to put the game out of reach early.
Lyons and trainer Ernie Sedelmyer returned from Las Vegas to Colorado Springs on Wednesday night. The rest of the team returned Thursday.
The team initially diagnosed Lyons' injury as a sprain, which could have meant a return to action or at least the PIT.
That will not be the case.
A first-team all-Mountain West selection early this week, Lyons finishes as Air Force’s No. 4 all-time leading scorer with 1,527 points. He led the MW in scoring average (17.7) and provided the Falcons’ single-game highlight with 45 points against Colorado State. His final points came on a heavily guarded 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining Saturday against No. 12 New Mexico. On the next possession he assisted on Todd Fletcher’s game-winner, giving the Falcons a victory over the highest-ranked opponent in school history.
Air Force (17-13) is ranked No. 75 in the RPI and hoping its 8-8 record in the Mountain West is enough to earn a spot in the NIT, which would begin Tuesday or Wednesday.
The team had avoided serious injuries throughout its resurgent season, then suffered one to its best player at the worst possible time.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate all year,” senior Mike Fitzgerald said Wednesday. “I remember my first three years here we had injuries every year that really set us back. But this year we were strong, confident coming into this game.
“So it was very disappointing.”