FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP)—Air Force lacks a big frontline and flashy, athletic players. The Falcons certainly know how to score, though.
“We share the basketball, play a disciplined offense and limit turnovers,” senior Dan Nwaelele said. “When you do those things you don’t need a 7-footer to win.”
Nwaelele led a balanced offense with 22 points, and No. 20 Air Force beat Colorado State 81-75 on Wednesday night for its 10th straight victory.
“The other factor in our success is we’ve played together so long that we have a chemistry out there,” Nwaelele said. “We know where the ball is coming from or where we need to take it to.”
That chemistry showed Wednesday night.
Jacob Burtschi and Tim Anderson each added 17 points for Air Force (14-1, 1-0 Mountain West Conference). Tim McCraw had 16 points for the Falcons, who have beaten Colorado State five straight times and matched last season’s start of a school-best 14 wins in 15 games.
“We lack size and don’t have anyone to post up,” Nwaelele said. “So we manifest shots with other ways, going in and out against zones and are patient enough to find the best shot when teams play man defense.”
Air Force shot 15-for-27 on 3-pointers against Colorado State’s zone. The Falcons also got 18 points in the paint and shot 55 percent from the field, the eighth straight time they’ve shot 50 percent or better.
“We don’t have a 7-footer,” coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “So we totally invert it and go so small that we can spread them, drive them and get them into foul trouble.”
Jason Smith led Colorado State (10-3, 0-1) with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Cory Lewis scored 18 points, but the Rams had their nine-game winning streak snapped.
“I thought we were tentative and they were the aggressor in the first half,” Colorado State coach Dale Layer said. “We were the aggressor in the second half.”
Colorado State made a game of it in the second half, nearly erasing a 10-point halftime deficit. Freddy Robinson’s 3-pointer and a free throw by Lewis pulled the Rams to 62-60 with 8:21 left.
“We knew they were going to double up on Jason and Stuart (Creason),” Lewis said. “When they kicked the ball out, we were ready to make shots.”
Colorado State had chances to close the game earlier only to have Steve Frye block a shot by Lewis inside and to have Burtschi come up with a loose ball in a scramble at midcourt.
“We weren’t going to lose our composure and didn’t,” Anderson said, referring in part to his team’s error-free second half that included zero turnovers.
On the other end, Frye’s layup and a jumper by Burtschi kept Air Force ahead.
Air Force withstood one last run. Two free throws by Creason got the Rams to 66-64 with 5:28 remaining, but Burtschi hit a 3-pointer and two free throws in an 8-2 run that made it 75-66.
The Falcons converted six free throws to counter three 3-pointers by Lewis in the final 24 seconds.
Air Force was 9-of-17 on 3-pointers in the first half and took a 45-35 lead into the break. Nwaelele had a 3-pointer and seven points in a 12-0 run that put the Falcons ahead 42-28 with 1:53 left in the half.
Smith was on the bench through much of the run with his second foul.
“We wanted that, to get him in foul trouble,” Bzdelik said. “Otherwise he might have had 50 points.”
Smith had consecutive baskets and Lewis beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer to get Colorado State within 10 points. Nwaelele had 15 points and McGraw 14 in the first period.
“This was discouraging,” Smith said. “We let them dictate the game, let them run the game the way they wanted to run it.”
Bzdelik wouldn’t allow himself time to savor the moment. Not even to give it a place among his team’s best performances.
“I was handed a UNLV scouting report into my hand as soon as the game ended,” Bzdelik said. “That’s the next challenge and that has my attention.”
The Falcons host UNLV on Saturday.