Updated: March 11, 2010 at 12:00 am
Air Force freshmen Todd Fletcher and Michael Lyons grew up throughout the 2009-10 regular season, playing in all 29 of the Falcons’ games.
They had a growth spurt in the Mountain West Conference Tournament.
In Thursday’s 75-69 quarterfinal loss to top-seeded New Mexico, Lyons and Fletcher were two of the Falcons’ best players. Lyons scored 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting and had four assists and no turnovers. Fletcher, meanwhile, scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting and had four assists and one turnover.
“It was good to see those guys mature today in an environment that was very much like playing on the road,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said.
Lyons had 26 points in the Falcons’ two tournament games, tied with junior forward Tom Fow for most on the team, and a team-best seven assists. Fletcher had 21 points and a 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Facing the best
New Mexico, ranked No. 8 in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls, was the highest-ranked team Air Force has played since facing then-No. 3 Georgia Tech on Dec. 11, 2004.
Perhaps most impressive about Air Force’s play Thursday was its ability to respond to New Mexico runs.
The Lobos went up 12-4 early when junior guard Dairese Gary followed a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Phillip McDonald with a three-point play. But Air Force went on a 9-0 run to take the lead (with Lyons, Fletcher and freshman Zach Bohannon doing all the scoring).
New Mexico retook the lead and had a 10-point advantage with less than five seconds to go in the first half. But junior guard Evan Washington hit a double-clutch 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer, and senior Grant Parker hit a 3 to start the second half and cut the Lobos’ lead to four.
New Mexico had a 58-49 advantage after a Roman Martinez 3-pointer with 7:26 to play, but Air Force scored on four straight possessions to pull within three.