Nobody else has finished this team off, either.
Air Force gave the nation’s last unbeaten team a run — trailing by three points with 6:14 remaining — but the No. 4 Aztecs dominated from there to win 89-74 in front of 4,401 at Clune Arena.
The Falcons’ 74 points were the most scored this season against the Aztecs.
“You take a lot of notes from them,” said Air Force senior Lavelle Scottie, who had 16 points and 13 rebounds against the team ranked No. 1 by the NCAA’s NET ranking. “There’s a reason why they’ve gotten to the position they’re in. Just looking at them, they don’t lose character. They stay within them and they encourage each other and stuff like that.
“But if we’re talking about skill-wise and talent-wise, we’re closer than you’d think. There are definitely a lot of good takaways from that.”
The Falcons (9-15, 3-9 Mountain West) had the feel of a team that had hit rock bottom in a no-show 88-54 loss at Nevada last Saturday. This one, despite being the team’s sixth straight loss, had no such feel.
Junior Chris Joyce entered the starting lineup and scored 23 points, easily eclipsing his career high of 15.
“I had guys like Lavelle and Sid come to me in the huddle and say, ‘Look for your shot. We’re going to get you the ball,’” Joyce said. “That was really big for me because I knew my teammates and my coaches believe in me.”
The Falcons had 16 assists and eight turnovers and outrebounded the Aztecs 33-30. Air Force led 14-12 in fast-break points, 12-7 in second-chance points, while the bench scoring (11-10 in favor of San Diego State) and points in the paint (26-24 for the visitors) were a virtual dead heat.
It’s just San Diego State (24-0, 13-0) happens to have perhaps the nation’s best team, and it showed in the final minutes as they made 4-of-5 3s to thwart any chances of a late Air Force comeback.
“Your margin of error against a good team like that,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said, “I mean, there’s a reason they’re where they’re at.”
KJ Feagin led San Diego State with 21 points, while Wooden Award candidate Malachi Flynn had 17 points with eight rebounds, seven assists and a steal with just two turnovers.
The Falcons shot 51.9% in the second half, including 44.4% from 3. The Aztecs were even better at 57.1 and 56.3.
“Give credit to them,” Pilipovich said. “They’re good.”
Caleb Morris scored 12 points for Air Force and Sid Tomes added 10. Both started, as Air Force went with a bigger lineup and brought sophomore guard AJ Walker off the bench for the first time in more than a year.
Walker and senior forward Ryan Swan were limited by foul trouble, with neither playing more than 15 minutes.
For the Falcons, yes, it was a sixth straight loss, but they also saw it as a glimpse of what yet can be.
“We can’t dwell on the negatives because that would just keep us in the hole that we’re already in,” Scottie said. “We’ve got to take something out of these last few games.
“We have six games left and the real important part is just leaving it all out on the table. I mean, we have nothing to lose. So might as well just bring energy to every game, every practice, even every shoot-around and just see what happens."