Air Force 71, UNLV 56
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)
Air Force's offense isn't all that complicated - lots of back-door cuts, screens and motion.
Defending it, well, that's a little more challenging.
UNLV knew exactly what was coming, but still couldn't stop it.
The Falcons (15-8, 6-4 Mountain West) broke out a snazzy, seldom-used look for the occasion, wearing camouflage shorts and matching tops. But there was nothing different about their style of play, as they frustrated the Rebels (18-7, 5-5) all night with one layup after another.
All those picks were simply working to perfection, leading UNLV coach Dave Rice to pick apart his team's performance.
''It's inexcusable,'' Rice said. ''We knew they were going to play like they did. We did not match what they brought.''
Air Force also played tenacious defense, holding Anthony Bennett, the league's leading scorer, to just eight points. He averages 18.3 points a game.
Katin Reinhardt finished with 15 points - all in the first half -to lead the Rebels, who have dropped three of four.
This time, the Falcons did everything they didn't do in a 76-71 overtime loss to UNLV in Las Vegas on Jan. 12. They outrebounded the Rebels (35-24) and dominated them in the paint (34-24).
''The way we practiced, we expected to come out and play the way we did,'' Lyons said. ''It was maybe a little shocking to see them not go as hard, and maybe we just took their hearts away. I don't know. You can definitely sense when a team kind of falls back, and when they did that, we just attacked.
''Things were working out for us offensively and defensively.''
Not only that, Air Force got under the skin of Bennett, who lost his cool midway through the second half. After a basket, Bennett took the ball and tossed it at Lyons. Bennett was assessed a technical foul, which was his fourth foul of the game.
A freshman mistake that drew the ire of his coach and landed him on the bench.
''We can't have those kinds of plays,'' Rice said. ''That's not a team play. That's going to be inexcusable. Those are lessons we have to learn. That's not what this program is going to be about.''
With Bennett sitting, Air Force extended its lead to 63-39 with 10:46 remaining.
From there, the Falcons tried to run time off the clock with their modified version of the Princeton offense. But the Rebels refused to go away, cutting the deficit to 65-53 with 3:46 remaining on a layup by Anthony Marshall.
Moments later, Fitzgerald and Lyons quelled the rally with clutch baskets.
Seniors coming up big at crunch time.
''It's just the way it worked out, and anybody can do it,'' Lyons said. ''Once they started coming back, I know I turned it up a little bit, the team turned it up a little bit and we pushed it back up to a comfortable margin.''
After the game, Reinhardt walked out of the arena with an ice pack on his left shoulder.
''Hurting pretty bad,'' Reinhardt said.
He was hurt early in the second half, when Lyons slid over in an attempt to draw a charge. The UNLV guard slammed down hard and had to be helped to the bench. Just two minutes later, he was back on the floor. But he wasn't the same player and attempted only two shots in the final 20 minutes.
This was only the third time the Falcons have gone with the all-camouflage look. They wore them for the All-Military Classic earlier this season, when they beat Army and The Citadel.
It's a look Lyons may not particularly like, but doesn't mind wearing given the results.
Air Force led by 17 points in the first half and took a 43-29 lead into the locker room thanks to the hot shooting of Lyons, who had 19 in the first half.
After a pinpoint pass late in the half, a frustrated UNLV fan sitting in the front row screamed: ''Come on. Graduate, already!''
Lyons has tormented teams his entire career.
Bennett struggled in the first half, scoring just four points on three shots. But all the focus on Bennett left Reinhardt wide open, as his 15 first-half points were just three shy of his career high.
Cameron Michael (flu) and Ethan Michael (shoulder) didn't play for the banged-up Falcons, while Marek Olesinski (sprained left thumb) and Tre' Coggins (sprained left shoulder) saw limited time on the court.
The Falcons host No. 24 Colorado State on Saturday. This week, the Rams returned to the AP rankings for the first time since 1954. Air Force is just 3-78 against ranked teams in the program's history.
Not only that, but the Falcons have this as incentive: They were blown out 79-40 at CSU last month.
''We definitely want revenge, and we've done so well at home,'' said Fitzgerald, whose team is 11-1 at Clune Arena this season. ''We showed (against UNLV) we can rebound, score and defend. There's no reason we can't win. We expect to win.''