AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)—There was no doubt in Nick Welch’s mind that the UNLV-Air Force game was going to go down to the wire as a matchup of teams on 10-game winning streaks should.
He was right.
Welch scored on a drive as the shot clock expired to give No. 20 Air Force a six-point lead with just under a minute to play and the Falcons went on to a 56-50 victory Saturday.
“We knew it was going to be a 40-minute game and it was going to come down the stretch,” Welch said. “Just two great teams that really wanted to win, and we understand how important each game is, so we were really focused in there toward the end.”
The play that led to the big basket wasn’t supposed to be for Welch.
“We were trying to actually run a play for Danny (Nwaelele),” Welch said. “The play kind of broke down because they kept him from getting the ball. Matt (McCraw) tried to create there and make a play, and whenever he threw me the ball, my guy just kind of lunged out at me. They were really trying to deny every pass, so I just took it there and went in for two, and it was a huge bucket.”
Welch, Nwaelele and McCraw all had 13 points for Air Force (15-1, 2-0 Mountain West) in its 11th straight win since a loss to No. 5 Duke.
Wendell White had 20 points for the Runnin’ Rebels (14-3, 1-1), who didn’t have to look far for a reason that their winning streak was snapped.
UNLV was 20-for-56 from the field, including 1-for-18 from 3-point range.
“We’ve got to shoot better,” UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. “Air Force is a very good defensive team, but we weren’t able to convert the opportunities that we were given. Obviously, the missed 3s hurt us. We got some good shots and some good plays from the post.”
UNLV scored the last four points of the first half to get within 27-22. The Runnin’ Rebels then scored the first seven points of the second half to go up 29-27.
Air Force finally took the lead for good at 45-43 on a jumper by Nwaelele with 6:33 to play.
“Every team’s going to make a run and they had their run,” said Air Force forward Jacob Burtschi, who had nine points and seven rebounds. “They came out with a lot of energy at the start of the second half, but we got settled down. We knew what we were supposed to do and we got into the flow of our offense again. And we worked our way back into a pretty good defensive style like we had in the past because it wasn’t there in the first half, really. We took care of business.”
Gaston Essengue and Joel Anthony both had 10 points for UNLV.
Air Force wasn’t that much better on 3-pointers than UNLV (3-for-12), but the Falcons were 19-for-39 from the field overall.
“They hurt us with the dribble drive, the dribble penetration, quite a bit,” Kruger said. “We have to do a better job of guarding it.”