Tim Miles can see the irony, but is not a big fan of it.
364 four days after defeating the Wyoming Cowboys in the MWC play in game and picking up their first conference win of the season, the CSU Rams and Miles found themselves playing the opposite role. The Air Force Falcons (10-20, 1-18 MWC) defeated the Rams (9-22, 4-15 MWC) Wednesday afternoon in this year’s play in game, picking up their first conference win of the year, and ending CSU’s season.
Miles said he could see the irony in the situation, adding that Air Force deserved to win this game.
“They didn’t just rely on three point field goals,” the second-year CSU head coach said. “They drove the ball down the lane and were able to score in the paint. We couldn’t stop it. They played great the final two weeks of the season and finally got an opponent that was beatable.”
Air Force senior Andrew Henke hit a dagger of a three pointer with just under two minutes remaining in the showdown, giving the Falcons a 60-55 lead.
CSU senior Willis Gardner hit two three pointers with under a minute left in the game, in an attempt to keep the Rams close to the cadets, but it wouldn’t be enough.
A combination of made free throws by the Falcons and missed desperation shots by the Rams guided Air Force to the second round of the tournament and sent CSU packing.
Anwar Johnson threw down a dunk for the Falcons with four seconds left, putting the exclamation point on Falcons’ 71-67 victory.
Miles described the loss as utterly disappointing, explaining that the Rams have a lot of work to do if they ever want to improve.
“It’s very disappointing and it’s been a frustrating season,” Miles said. “I was hired to raise the bar and so far have had two frustrating seasons. We will turn the tide, but it’s going to take commitment and a better work ethic to get us there.”
The Falcons came into the second half eager to shoot. Air Force was good early in the half, jumping ahead of the Rams for the first time since grabbing a 2-0 lead a minute into the game. Sophomore Evan Washington gave Air Force the 46-45 lead mid way through the second half, hitting a three-pointer from the corner.
CSU was ahead of the Falcons at halftime 33-30, after jumping out to a solid start in the game. The Rams lead by as many as nine points in the contest’s opening 30 minutes.
CSU senior guard Marcus Walker led all scorers in the game, posting 20 points, six rebounds and four assists in a losing effort. Gardner, also a senior, put up 11 points and five rebounds for CSU.
Miles said the loss was difficult for the seniors and every Rams player to take.
“It’s tough on them,” he said. “To set out to accomplish a lot and then to fall short of those goals is disappointing to everyone.”
With the defeat, CSU ends the season with losses in four straight games and eight of their last 10.
With the win, the Falcons earn a date with No. 1 seed BYU tonight. Air Force has yet to beat the Cougars this season, falling twice, but played BYU in the pair’s last meeting, losing 54-49.
As CSU heads back to Fort Collins, Miles said he already knows what the Rams have to do in order to prevent this type of loss from happening again.
“We just have to continue to develop and recruit student athletes who can compete at the top level of the Mountain West,” Miles said. “I was hired to turn the program around, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Men’s Basketball beat reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.