March 9, 2013
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) - With one long jump shot, senior day turned into a surreal dream for Todd Fletcher.
The Air Force guard took a pass from fellow senior Michael Lyons and drilled a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining to give the Falcons an 89-88 victory over No. 12 New Mexico on Saturday.
The Falcons earned the No. 6 seed in next week's Mountain West Championships and will face No. 3 seed UNLV on Wednesday, March 13 at noon (PT) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
On Saturday, Tony Snell's 3-point attempt from the right wing clanged off the iron as time expired, and Falcons fans stormed the court to celebrate the program's first win over a top 12 team. Fletcher's clutch shot came seconds after New Mexico's Kendall Williams missed the back end of a 1-and-1.
"I'm still in shock," said Fletcher, who was lifted above the crowd by former Air Force linebacker Alex Means after the game. "I don't know how Michael made the shot before - that was unbelievable - so, of course, three people jumped out on him and no one was guarding me.
"I shot it, and it went in. It felt dang good, that's for sure."
The Lobos (26-5, 13-3 Mountain West) led 87-83 with 19 seconds remaining after a pair of Williams free throws, but Lyons - the conference's leading scorer - hit a long, contested 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds left to cut the lead to one.
"It doesn't get much better than that," said Lyons, one of five Air Force seniors. "This senior class is like family, and we've been through some ups, some lows and some deep lows. This is a great win over a great team, but we've still got a lot more basketball to play."
Fletcher finished with a career-high 21 points, with Lyons leading the way for Air Force (17-12, 8-8) with 30. Marek Olesinski was 5-of-5 from the field for a career-high 15 points - all in the first half - off the bench for the Falcons.
It was the second win over a Top 25 opponent for Air Force this season and improved the Falcons' season record at Clune Arena to 13-2. Air Force had been 3-79 all-time against ranked opponents entering the game.
"I told the players this - and I mean this - `If I never coached another game in my life, it'd be OK,'" Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. "This team has beaten three ranked teams in about a year, with some stupid coaching. That was pretty neat - wow!"
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for New Mexico and ended the Lobos' 13-game winning streak over the Falcons. Williams had 21 points and 10 assists to lead the Lobos. Snell hit seven 3-pointers for 21 points, and Alex Kirk adding 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The game was a back-and-forth sprint that featured 10 ties and seven lead changes, with the teams combining for a conference-record 30 3-pointers. Air Force was 15 of 31 from 3-point range, with New Mexico going 15 for 33.
"It wasn't one of our best defensive efforts," New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. "Our defense is a lot better than it was tonight, but I do give Air Force a lot of credit. We score 88 points ... we should win games."
New Mexico had 29 assists on 34 baskets against only eight turnovers, with Air Force notching 23 assists and just six turnovers. The Lobos narrowly out-shot Air Force 58.6 percent to 56.4 percent, but the Falcons finished with a 29-9 advantage in bench points.
"It was just great shooting overall tonight," Fletcher said. "It was a good game to a be part of, that's for sure."
The score was tied 47-all at halftime.