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LAS VEGAS - Colorado State sent Air Force into the offseason with nothing to second guess.
The 10th-seeded Falcons were simply outgunned, thoroughly, as the No. 2 Rams blew them out 81-55 on Thursday in a Mountain West Tournament quarterfinal.
Air Force kept pace early, leading 24-23, but conference Player of the Year Gian Clavell (30 points) and company left no doubt beyond that point about who belonged in the semifinals – a round the Falcons have never reached.
Air Force went scoreless for more than 7 minutes near the end of the first half, fell behind by 13 at the break, and the Rams piled it on from there.
Colorado State, which typically plays just seven players, even had a chance to put in its’ eighth player, walk-on Juan Sabino of Fountain-Fort Carson High School.
Hayden Graham led the Falcons with 15 points. Freshman Lavelle Scottie added 12.
Air Force finishes the season 12-21.
Extended scoring drought puts Air Force in hole against Colorado State
LAS VEGAS – Air Force started hot again and led early.
For more than 7 minutes, the 10th-seeded Falcons couldn’t score and No. 2 Colorado State flew by it to build a 39-26 halftime lead at the Mountain West Tournament.
The Falcons missed nine consecutive shots as the Rams gained separation with a 16-0 run.
This isn’t the way this game looked early. Air Force led 11-7, then 24-23 and made 7 of its first 10 shots. It wasn’t the same kind of 25-0 game-opening run that it had against Wyoming the day before here at the Thomas & Mack Center, but it was a solid start.
But Colorado State has dominated on the boards, leading 20-9 in rebounding and leading 8-0 second-chance points.
Hayden Graham leads Air Force with 13 points. His dunk barely beat the halftime buzzer as it put an end to the scoring drought.
Air Force tries to capitalize on crazy year in conference
LAS VEGAS – From the beginning, this has been a wild Mountain West basketball season.
San Diego State, the league’s three-time defending champion, opened with a three-game losing streak.
Around that time, Colorado State learned it would be playing the conference season with seven players.
Perennial cellar-dweller San Jose State won four straight, beating perennial powers UNLV (twice), San Diego State and New Mexico.
By the time it was finished, Nevada, with four losses, won the league title. And when it did, coach Eric Musselman took his shirt off and ran around the floor.
All the while, signs pointed to a crazy four-day Mountain West Tournament, with virtually anyone capable of winning it. The first day provided glimpses of that craziness, with San Diego State overcoming an 18-point halftime deficit to knock off host UNLV.
Could Air Force be one that capitalizes on this free for all in Vegas?
The 10th-seeded Falcons hammered No. 7 Wyoming 83-68 in the opening round on Wednesday, scoring the first 25 points of the game.
Next up is No. 2 Colorado State, which blew out Air Force 85-58 on Jan. 7. But that game was in Moby Arena, the Falcons were without Hayden Graham (hives) and it was close (Air Force trailed by three points at the 18:30 mark of the second half) before a motivated Rams squad pulled away and emotionally gave coach Larry Eustachy his 500th career victory.
“We know we can beat any team,” Air Force guard Jacob Van said Wednesday after scoring 18 points against Wyoming. “We’ve competed with everyone. Honestly, winning this game is going to give us the momentum and confidence going into tomorrow. There’s a lot of positives playing in this game and winning and coming out with such a good start. We’re excited and we know we can compete with anyone in the league for sure.”
The Rams feature a pair of All-Mountain West first-team selections in Gian Clavell (the league’s Player of the Year) and center Emmanuel Omogbo.
“Our effort has to be on (Clavell),” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “And then when those guys shoot it and miss it, who gets it? Omogbo. He’s an unbelievable player. He’s so confident to gain offensive rebounds and kick it to his teammates. It’s going to be a big challenge.”
Air Force has never reached the semifinals of the Mountain West Tournament. But this year might just be crazy enough for that to finally happen.