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After falling, Air Force’s Chris Joyce tries to pass the ball while being defended by Utah St.’s Marco Anthony during the first half of a game between the Air Force Academy and Utah State at Clune Arena at the Air Force Academy on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. Utah St. defeated Air Force 83-48. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Air Force continues to stack up losses, but the trend suggests that pile is on the verge of tipping.

The pattern has been the same. Falcons fall behind by double digits, rally back to make it a game, then fall. The size of that rally — how much it has rocked in Air Force’s favor — has been the biggest variable. Lately they’ve managed to go ahead by a point or two. On Monday, the Falcons came from 11 down to lead New Mexico by seven in the second half.

The result was the same, a 73-65 loss that pushes program’s longest losing streak in 12 years to 10 games. But at this point Air Force is holding out hope for that breakthrough.

“I see it getting better,” coach Joe Scott said. “That doesn’t mean you’re going to get the result you want right away. That’s not how the world works. If you just want to feel good, you might want to think about doing something else. This is going to take work, it’s going to take a lot of care and effort.

“We’ve got to have that sort of spirit to stay with it, and our guys are.”

The Falcons went with a younger lineup, inserting sophomores Camden Vander Zwaag and Carter Murphy into the lineup for the first time and playing each more than 30 minutes. But it was the veterans who carried the load.

Junior A.J. Walker scored 26 points with three assists and no turnovers in 40 minutes at point guard against a press.

Senior Chris Joyce scored 16 — most coming on drives to the basket — with eight rebounds.

Junior Abe Kinrade had the most efficient game of his career, scoring 15 points on 4-of-4 shooting. He hit three 3s and 4 of 5 free throws while grabbing six rebounds.

Aside from those three, Air Force (4-17, 2-15 Mountain West) made 3 of 14 shots as it was outshot 59% to 43%.

New Mexico (6-13, 2-13) was led by 22 points from Makuach Maluach. Freshman Jovante Johnson, a Cheyenne Mountain grad, played five scoreless minutes for the Lobos, who saw a five-game losing streak come to an end.

The game marked the first time the Falcons had faced Lobos assistant Dave Pilipovich since he was fired as Air Force’s coach in March 2020 after 8½ seasons at the helm.

“I talked to him before the game a little bit, just catching up,” Joyce said. “It was the first time I had seen him since he left. It was definitely good to see him doing well. It’s definitely weird seeing him in red and black, though. I’ve been here five years; I’m used to seeing him in Air Force blue.”

Note

The Mountain West announced Monday that no fans would be permitted for the conference tournament in Las Vegas because of COVID-19.

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