Air Force's Michael Lyons scores during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against New Mexico, at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado, Saturday, March 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Saturday, March 09, 2013 10:01 pm
Fletcher lifts Air Force over No. 12 New Mexico
By NEAL REIDAssociated Press
The Air Force guard took a pass from fellow senior Michael Lyons and hit a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining to give the Falcons an 89-88 victory over No. 12 New Mexico 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 free throws by Williams. Lyons, the conference's leading scorer, hit a long, contested 3 with 12.1 seconds left to cut the deficit 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 and Lyons led the way for Air Force (17-12, 8-8) with 30. Marek Olesinski was 5 of 5 from the field off the bench for a career-high 15 points - all in the first half.
It was the second win over a Top 25 opponent for Air Force this season, and the Falcons finished 13-2 at Clune Arena. Air Force entered 3-79 against ranked opponents.
"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 against the Falcons. Williams had 21 points and 10 assists to lead the Lobos. Snell hit seven 3-pointers for 21 points, and Alex Kirk added 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. Air Force had 23 assists and just six turnovers. The Lobos narrowly outshot 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.