January 5, 2014 Updated: January 5, 2014 at 7:00 pm
LAS VEGAS - Immediately after a loss at UC Davis four days before Christmas, Air Force basketball co-captain DeLovell Earls addressed the team in a somber locker room.
"He said, 'Guys, if you want to be any good, you've got to win away games,'" fellow co-captain Kamryn Williams said. "It's true. If we want to prove anyone wrong, we've got to win away."
The Falcons took the message to heart. They built an early 10-point lead at UNLV on Saturday and, unlike at UC Davis where a halftime lead slipped away, held on for a rare road victory.
Prior to this, the Falcons (8-5, 2-0 Mountain West) had been 0-2 in true road games this year, falling to Virginia Military Institute and at UC Davis. Last year they were largely atrocious on the road, beating only Wyoming during eight Mountain West road games despite going 7-1 against those same teams at home.
This year, they're one-for-one in road chances in the conference.
"We started getting tight there late," said coach Dave Pilipovich, whose team had to fight off a UNLV comeback. "We called timeout and said, 'Just run the offense.' We stayed in what we do and we got some scores."
Perhaps that was the most encouraging thing about the way Air Force broke its conference road jinx, is that it did not take a fluke occurrence. In the second half the Falcons shot a pedestrian - and repeatable - 3 of 9 from 3-point range and 11 of 25 from the field. So this was not the product of shooting beyond their capabilities.
Air Force turned the ball over just four times in that second half despite fighting nerves and outrebounded the Rebels 32-31 despite giving up about 2 inches at nearly every spot on the court.
"As long as we just work hard, we'll take our chances," Pilipovich said. "Hell, we may not win another game, but this group is fun to be around and they're working extremely hard."
This kind of effort, or at least the results, just wasn't there for this team last year or, for that matter, for the past five years - a span in which the Falcons were 5-34 in conference games away from home.
"It was confidence," said point guard Tre' Coggins, who scored 21 points Saturday and is a candidate for conference player of the week honors after also scoring 14 in a win Wednesday over Utah State. "We came out here knowing that after our win at home that if we played together we could do anything. We just didn't pay attention to the hype of this team we were playing."
The Falcons didn't listen to the hype, but they did listen to their captain. And, at 2-0 in conference for the first time in seven years, who knows where that leadership will take them next.