DENVER – Pervis Louder elevated and brought down a whole series of Air Force ills with one spectacular slam.
The dunk with 3.7 seconds left put the finishing touches on the Falcons’ 61-59 victory over Denver on Saturday at Magness Arena, but that only scratches at the surface of the significance. This was a game the Falcons trailed 27-5. Air Force had lost three straight. And, most glaringly, it had dropped 22 straight on the road.
Louder, who hit 4-of-6 second-half shots and finished with 14 points, didn’t have time to think of all that. He just saw an opening and went for it, finishing strong with his right hand.
“The lane was wide open, so I knew I had to try to dunk it, even if I missed,” Louder said. “It just happened so fast. I was just worried about making the bucket so we could win the game.”
Louder’s day was full of big plays. His 3-pointer snapped that horrid skid to open the game and started the comeback from the 22-point deficit. And, with 51 seconds remaining, he hit a 3 that put the Falcons up 59-56.
But the Pioneers – who defeated Wyoming 88-78 on Wednesday – came back to tie after hitting 3 of 4 free throws in the final minute.
Then came the dunk that just might go down as the most spectacular finish to a Falcons’ victory since Todd Fletcher’s 3-pointer buried New Mexico on Senior Night in 2013.
Trevor Lyons brought the ball up after Denver tied it with with 9.7 seconds remaining. Lyons passed to Louder, with Lyons’ momentum then taking out defender Luke Neff and causing congestion that helped Louder get the first step on his defender, Jake Holtzmann, as Louder circled to the top of the key and sprang toward the basket.
With Holtzmann playing catch-up, it was up to 6-foot-10 center Daniel Amigo to step over and protect the rim. Four Pioneers hands went up as Holtzmann and Amigo tried to stop the play, but the ball – in the hand of the 6-4 Louder – was raised the highest and slammed in with 3.7 seconds left on the clock.
Louder, a junior, was fouled by Holtzmann on the play as well.
“That was monstrous, that was incredible,” said Ryan Manning, who led Air Force with 19 points.
“Here’s what I’m thinking,” coach Dave Pilipovich explained. “He’s going to get fouled or get blocked. All of the sudden he comes through and just, boom. Holy s---. I kissed him. He finished that. It was just a strong move.”
Louder had a dunk featured in "SportsCenter"’s Top 10 last season, but he said the circumstances helped Saturday’s play rise to the top of his personal list.
The Falcons (4-3) had cut the early deficit to as little as seven late in the first half and trailed 38-27 at halftime.
The Pioneers (3-5) kept their separation to at least nine points through the first 10 minutes of the second half, then popped back ahead by 13 with 10:48 remaining. Then a Louder layup, followed by a Manning dunk on an assist from Louder, started a 10-0 run.
“You have to trust the process,” Pilipovich said. “You just start chipping, chipping, chipping away. Then in the second half we started believing it a little and then pressure went from our side to their side.”
Denver made seven of its first 10 3s, but hit just 3 of 12 in the second half.
And with that, Air Force earned its first road victory since a 67-60 win at UC Davis in 2015.
“To finally get a road win, it shows you how different this team is,” Manning said, “and it shows how much we’re capable of when we can come back from a three-game losing streak and win our first game in two years on the road.”