Falcons Soar Past Austin Peay In Opening Round Of NIT, 75-51
March 14, 2007
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- The Air Force Falcons forgot about the NCAA Tournament snub.
Same with a four-game losing streak and rumors about their coach, Jeff Bzdelik, possibly looking at other positions following the conclusion of the season.
The Falcons simply followed Bzdelik's orders in a 75-51 win over Austin Peay in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday night.
"Coach told us to go out there, have fun and play with desperate energy," Matt McCraw said.
Air Force, the top seed in the West region, will host fourth-seeded Georgia on Monday night in the second round. The Bulldogs beat Fresno State 88-78 earlier Wednesday.
The Falcons played like the team that went 17-1 to start the season, not the 6-7 squad to close it. The team had all five starters score 13 points. Jacob Burtschi, Tim Anderson, McCraw, Dan Nwaelele and Nick Welch proved that 13 is a lucky number for the Falcons.
"That's something our team is blessed with. Our offense isn't designed for just one player," said Anderson, who had a career high eight rebounds.
The Falcons could've mailed it in after losing four straight to close the season and then not making the NCAA Tournament field. But this squad is motivated by the Big Apple. The Falcons want to play in Madison Square Garden on March 29 in the NIT final.
Why not make their first appearance in the NIT memorable?
"You can't hang onto the past," Burtschi said. "We have a great opportunity here in the NIT. It feels good to get one under your belt."
The Falcons (24-8) have now won 55 of their last 57 games at Clune Arena. Their 30-game home winning streak was snapped with a 62-58 loss to BYU in the regular-season finale on Feb. 27.
Air Force's 24 wins tie a school record set last season.
Fernandez Lockett led Austin Peay (21-12) with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Drake Reed, the Ohio Valley Conference's player of the year, finished with seven points. Reed had scored in double figures in 24 straight games before Wednesday night.
"That's probably the best defense that I've had played on me all season," Reed said. "They always put a body on somebody."
A 3-pointer by McCraw with just over 8 minutes remaining in the first half gave Air Force a 19-16 advantage. The Falcons didn't trail again.
McCraw became the 22nd player at Air Force to eclipse 1,000 points for his career. Fellow seniors Welch, Burtschi and Nwaelele all surpassed the 1,000-point mark earlier this season.
Austin Peay won the OVC title this season for the seventh time in school history. The Governors lost to Eastern Kentucky 63-62 in the league tournament to fall short of the automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
"Hopefully, we'll learn from this," Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said. "We got a dose of the next level [of play]. This will be a good lesson for us."
Bzdelik has been repeatedly asked if he plans on leaving the Falcons after the season.
While he said he hasn't been contacted by any schools -- such as the University of Colorado -- about openings, Bzdelik said he's willing to listen to offers.
"I'll be honest with you: Yeah," said Bzdelik, who's in his second year at Air Force. "I have no plans to go anywhere else, but there's always that 'but.'"
The Falcons aren't paying attention to the circulating rumors about their coach.
"He told us straight up that he's committed and not talking to anyone until after the season," Anderson said. "That's to worry about after the season. He's a great coach. We love him. It's an issue for later."