A last-minute comeback by CSU (15-14, 4-12 MWC) fell short in a 63-59 defeat at the hands of the Air Force Falcons Saturday afternoon in the final game of Mountain West Conference play.
The Rams led 59-58 with 1:57 left to play after a Stephan Gilling 3-pointer, but that would be the last time the home team would see the lead.
"I thought our guys played with great heart, but just did not hit enough shots," said CSU head coach Dale Layer. "(Air Force) hit huge shots down the stretch."
Two free throws by Air Force senior Antoine Hood made it a 60-59 game 21 seconds later. With one more shot at the lead, sophomore Stuart Creason's jump shot was short with 50 seconds left. The Falcons' (24-5, 12-4 MWC) Tim Anderson then hit a three-pointer with 11 seconds left to seal their 24th win of the season.
CSU led for all but 10 minutes in the contest, including taking a 31-26 halftime advantage into the locker room, but it was the Air Force shooting from beyond the arc that won the game by the end.
"I thought we did a pretty good job on everything except threes," said Layer.
The Falcons made 13 of their 27 attempts (48 percent) from three-land with junior Matt McCraw hitting six treys. The 6'2" guard finished with a game-high 18 points.
"It's an equal-opportunity offense that manufactures threes by driving and kicking the ball out," said Air Force head coach Jeff Bzdelik of his team's Princeton offense.
While 3-pointers really hurt the Rams, another key part in the game wasn't a dunk or a great shot, but an ejection. Air Force junior Jacob Burtschi was returning to his team bench and knocked into Layer. CSU swingman Freddy Robinson left the bench in retaliation and was immediately ejected from the game midway through the second half. The Rams missed his defense for the rest of the game.
Sophomore Jason Smith led the Rams in scoring with 17 points and had a game-high nine rebounds to go along with a team-high of five assists and five blocks. Fellow sophomore Stuart Creason was the only other Ram in double figures, scoring 13 points, shooting 5-of-8 from the field.
"Stuart was probably the most consistent player tonight, I have great confidence in him," Layer said.
Air Force senior Antoine Hood led the Falcons with eight rebounds and chipped in 15 points, and was one of two players to play the entire 40 minutes.
"It was all about coming together at the right time and being aggressive," Hood said.
CSU "Senior Day" was spoiled right off the bat when senior Michael Morris injured his knee in pre-game warm-ups and did not play. He is questionable for Tuesday's MWC Tournament. Guard Andrew Patterson, the only other senior, had three points, four rebounds and an assist in his last game in Moby Arena.
"This game just kind of summed up how everything has been up and down this year," said Patterson. "But my teammates never quit, hopefully it will pay off."
The Rams now look toward the conference tournament. The Rams will face TCU at 7:30 at the Pepsi Center.
"It's a new game when you go into the tournament," said Jason Smith. "We just have to go out there and play."
CSU FG-FGA Points Rebounds Assists Min
Robinson 1-3 2 5 3 15
Smith 7-11 17 9 5 38
Harrison 1-4 6 6 0 39
Lewis 3-5 9 3 5 35
Patterson 1-4 3 4 1 19
Creason 5-8 13 5 1 26
Gilling 3-8 9 0 1 24
Morris, S 0-1 0 3 0 3
AFA FG-FGA Points Rebounds Assists Min
Burtschi 2-9 6 3 5 36
Nwaelele 3-14 9 2 3 40
Frye 2-2 4 1 0 9
McCraw 6-10 18 3 1 38
Hood 3-8 15 8 5 40
Anderson 3-3 9 3 1 29
Holum 1-2 2 1 0 6
Kenzik 0-1 0 0 1 2