NCAA BK

No. 12 New Mexico falls to Air Force 89-88

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)

Fittingly, a 3-pointer decided New Mexico's fate against Air Force on Saturday.

Air Force guard Todd Fletcher took a pass from fellow senior Michael Lyons and drilled a 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds remaining to give the Falcons an 89-88 victory over the 12th-ranked Lobos in front of 6,112 at Clune Arena.

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 - who scored the final nine points for the Lobos - missed the back end of a 1-and-1.

''They matched us shot for shot,'' said Williams, who banked in a deep 3-pointer off the glass to give New Mexico an 85-82 lead with 2:04 remaining. ''They hit a fadeaway 25 footer - Mike (Lyons) did, and he had a great game - and then another senior, Fletcher, hit the game-winner, fadeaway 3. You don't want to make any excuses, just give them a lot of credit.

''If you are a fan of basketball and like offense, this was your game.''

The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for New Mexico (26-5, 13-3 Mountain West) and ended the Lobos' 13-game winning streak over the Falcons (17-12, 8-8).

Williams had 21 points and 10 assists to lead the Lobos. Snell hit seven 3-pointers for 21 points, and Alex Kirk adding 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.''

Fletcher left the media interview room still shaking his head about what transpired.

''I'm still in shock,'' said Fletcher, one of five Air Force seniors. ''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.''

Despite the loss, Alford was proud of what his team has accomplished in the regular season.

''They've played hard for 31 games, and to go 26-5 and win the toughest league in the country by two games, I can't applaud them any more,'' Alford said. ''They have been incredible all year long, and I thought they were incredible again tonight.''

The Lobos led 87-83 with 19 seconds remaining after a pair of Williams free throws, but Lyons - the conference's leading scorer - hit a long, contested 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds left to cut the lead to one.

''It doesn't get much better than that,'' said Lyons, who had 21 of his 30 points in the second half. ''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.''

It was the second win over a Top 25 opponent for Air Force this season and improved the Falcons' season record at Clune Arena to 13-2. Air Force had been 3-79 all-time against ranked opponents entering the game.

''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!''

Fletcher finished with a career-high 21 points, with Lyons leading the way for Air Force with 30. Marek Olesinski was 5-of-5 from the field for a career-high 15 points - all in the first half - off the bench for the Falcons.

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.

The score was tied 47-all at halftime.

Tagged: Air Force, Michael Lyons, Todd Fletcher, Kendall Williams, New Mexico

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