LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP)—Game tied, inbounds play with 1.2 seconds left—and Wyoming switching on every screen. It was the perfect opportunity to run a bit of misdirection.
And it worked to perfection.
Jacob Burtschi had 18 points, including the winning basket at the buzzer, and No. 18 Air Force beat Wyoming 58-56 on Saturday.
With Dan Nwaelele making the inbounds pass, Burtschi set a screen for Matt McCraw, who curled out to the 3-point line. When Wyoming’s Ryan Dermody switched on the screen, Burtschi had a wide-open path to the basket.
“Wyoming was switching on us all night,” Burtschi said. “We set the play so if they didn’t switch, we had Matt on the outside. But when No. 5 went with the switch, I just cut back in.”
Burtschi dribbled once and easily laid it in. The ball fell through the hoop at the buzzer, sending the Falcons—17-1 for the first time in school history and 4-0 in the Mountain West—streaming onto the court in celebration. It was the 13th consecutive win for the Falcons, tying a school record.
“It worked earlier in the game and we were able to get a layup, so we thought we’d try it again,” Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik said.
“We knew everything that they were going to do,” Wyoming coach Steve McClain said, “but that doesn’t mean you’re going to stop it.”
If they’d hit their free throws, Air Force could have sealed it earlier. Leading 56-55, the Falcons twice missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and when John Frye fouled Daaron Brown with 21 seconds left he gave Wyoming (11-6, 2-1) a chance to take the lead.
But Brown missed the first of his free throws, too, hitting the second to tie the game at 56. The Cowboys, who’d hit 72 percent of their free throws coming in, hit 13 of 20 (65 percent) on Saturday.
“We had a chance to win the game, … but they just didn’t go in for us tonight,” Brandon Ewing said.
Air Force tried to set up a play, but lost the ball; it went out of bounds off a Wyoming player, setting up the inbounds play and Burtschi’s game-winning layup.
Nwaelele scored 13 points for the Falcons, and Tim Anderson had 10.
With Air Force down 52-49, Anderson scored on a tip-in to bring the Falcons within a point. Matt McCraw then found himself open at the top of the arc and hit a 3-pointer that put Air Force up 54-52 with 1:50 left. Nwaelele dunked on an assist from Anderson to make it 56-52 with 1:02 to go.
Brandon Ewing hit a pair of free throws to bring Wyoming within 56-54. The Cowboys stole then the ball on the inbounds play. Joseph Taylor missed a dunk, and James Spencer—fouled in the scramble for the loose ball—hit just one of two free throws, leaving Wyoming down 56-55.
Ewing led Wyoming with 15 points, and Brad Jones scored 13.
The Falcons fell behind 11-2 in the first half, missing nine of their first 10 shots, but slowly climbed back into the game. McCraw’s 3-pointer with 35 seconds left pulled Air Force to 20-19. Ewing hit a free throw in the final seconds of the first half to give Wyoming a 21-19 lead.
“We missed nine layups in the first half,” Bzdelik said. “That’s not good.”
“It was a horrible first half, for me and for the whole team,” Burtschi said. “Fortunately, we just hung with it, and in the second half we were able to make some plays.”
Burtschi led the comeback in the second half, hitting three 3-pointers, with the last one putting Air Force up 28-27 with 16:04 left to play. After that, the lead changed hands five times before Burtschi’s game-winning basket.