Falcons Edge DePaul, 52-51, Move On To NIT Semifinals In New York
March 21, 2007
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) - The Air Force Falcons have put their NCAA snub and their senior day stub behind them.
"It still (stinks) that we did it a little too late, but you know what, it's unbelievable," Jacob Burtschi said after scoring the basket that sent Air Force to the NIT semifinals in New York with a 52-51 win over DePaul on Wednesday night.
"I want to go get some pizza from there, I hear that's where it's at."
The Falcons (26-8), who will play South Region top seed Clemson in the semifinals on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden beginnning at 9 p.m. (ET), saw their NCAA bubble burst with four straight losses to end the season.
That slide included a 62-58 loss to Brigham Young that snapped the longest home winning streak in the nation at 30 games and spoiled senior day for a group that has won 90 games, more than any other class in the academy's history.
Now, their final memories of Clune Arena, where they've won 57 of their last 59, will be of their fans storming the court and carrying them off.
"Coach said something that really hit home: in life sometimes you're not given a second chance," said senior Matt McCraw, who also scored 13 points. "He said this game was our second chance to go out with how our senior night should have been."
He called it a great feeling to be able to give military personnel serving overseas something to cheer about.
Burtschi was 0-for-7 in the second half before scoring the game-winner with 7.7 seconds left after taking a perfect pass from Tim Anderson and drawing the foul from Wilson Chandler.
"I was excited because we got the lead back. I was pretty pumped up," Burtschi said. "I was probably too pumped up because I missed the free throw, but I don't care because we won. ... I was finally able to make a shot in the second half. But hey, I don't care if I was 0-for-8 in the second half. The last seven seconds were absolutely the most important. We didn't give up even if we could have."
The Blue Demons (24-10) had one last chance to earn their fifth trip to the NIT final four, which they won in 1945, when the tourney was more prestigious than the NCAAs.
DePaul's Draelon Burns, who scored 18 points and had five 3-pointers, rimmed out a 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer.
"I thought it was good, it was on line," Burns said. "But the ending wasn't quite like I wanted it to be."
The normally restrained crowd at Clune Arena stormed the court as Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" serenaded them over the loud speakers.
DePaul had been 18-0 when leading with five minutes left, and the Blue Demons were up 46-43 at that mark against Air Force.
Anderson scored on a layup with 3 1/2 minutes left to give Air Force a 47-46 lead, its first since the opening minutes of the second half. The lead changed three more times, with Chandler putting DePaul up 51-50 with a 3-pointer with just under two minutes left.
Dan Nwaelele's basket was called off when he was whistled for a charge with 1:14 left, stunning the Falcons and their fans who had thought he was on his way to the foul line for a three-point play.
After a timeout, Anderson knocked the inbounds pass off inbounder Jabari Currie, giving the Falcons the ball under their basket. But Nwaelele was whistled again for a foul on a pick with 47 seconds left.
The Blue Demons again gave the ball back, this time when Sammy Mejia turned it over after running into Anderson with 16 seconds remaining.
With a bigger, more physical lineup, frequent substitutions to deal with the altitude and a deft shooting touch from outside, the Blue Demons weathered a packed lane and an early 16-2 Air Force run to trail just 29-26 at the half.
Burns started the second half with a 3 that sparked a 9-2 Blue Demons run that put DePaul ahead 35-31. His fifth 3-pointer, which came after he banged his head hard on the floor while committing a foul, made it 38-34, and Chandler followed with another 3-pointer to give DePaul its biggest lead at 41-34.
But Burns didn't score again, and the Falcons re-energized their crowd by scoring seven straight points to set up the frenetic final minutes.