Had Air Force guard Michael Lyons’ final shot of regulation fell, or even if a foul Lyons thought he drew on his drive to the basket was called, the night at Clune Arena probably would have ended up with Falcons fans on the Clune Arena floor celebrating the biggest upset in program history.
Instead, Air Force seemed to be spent when Lyons’ shot came off the rim and the game went to overtime. The Falcons fell short in overtime, but it wasn’t because they didn’t play hard.
“Great effort,” coach Jeff Reynolds said. “Can’t fault our kids’ effort. I thought they played their hearts out.”
Reynolds didn’t blame six overtime turnovers on his team being tired, but it had to be a factor. For most of the game, sensing the very real possibility of beating a ranked team for only the second time in Air Force basketball history (the other win was against 21st-ranked UTEP in 1992; UNLV is ranked 12th), every loose ball ended up with an Air Force player or two on the floor. The Falcons worked hard to force a talented UNLV team to settle for many bad shots. UNLV shot just 32 percent from the field in the second half and 33 percent in overtime.
Air Force doesn’t usually turn the ball over, but with most of the players on the floor reaching or past 40 minutes of game action, it turned the ball over six times in overtime.
“We’re a little disappointed how we executed at the end,” forward Kamryn Williams said. “The effort was there, everything was there, we just didn’t execute at the end.”
Despite all the mistakes, Air Force still had a chance to win at the end. With 7.6 seconds left and Air Force trailing 65-63, Falcons forward Mike Fitzgerald dove on a loose ball and called a timeout. Air Force called a play for guard Todd Fletcher, who Reynolds termed his best driver and ballhandler. UNLV played Fletcher well on the screen and he didn’t get the shot off. He tried to pass but even if UNLV’s Chace Stanback hadn’t knocked the pass away, it might have been too late to get up any shot.
“Sometimes you make ill-advised decisions under pressure,” Reynolds said.
The loss was disappointing, and dropped Air Force to 11-8 and 1-4 in Mountain West play, but it could end up being a confidence builder for the Falcons.
“We’re a good basketball team,” Reynolds said. “We’ve got to continue to believe in what we’re doing and at some point we’ll be in a position where at least we get a shot at it.”