PROVO, Utah (AP)—Brigham Young made up for a difficult day from the outside by completely controlling just about every ball that bounced inside.
The Cougars outrebounded No. 16 Air Force by 22 and beat the Falcons 61-52 Saturday, extending BYU’s home winning streak to 27 and keeping pace early in the Mountain West Conference race.
“It was huge. We have to stay close to them,” said Austin Ainge, who had five assists, eight rebounds and BYU’s only 3-pointer of the second half. “They’re a very good team. We’ll take a win against them any way we can get it.”
The Cougars (15-6, 5-2 MWC) outrebounded Air Force 42-20. Keena Young also had eight boards and Trent Plaisted pulled down seven. Plaisted led BYU with 22 points and Young finished with 17 points, including a three-point play with 19 seconds left that sealed it.
BYU hasn’t lost in the Marriott Center since the season opener in 2005, and Saturday was the first sellout in the building in three years. The white-clad fans were in a frenzy for much of the afternoon.
“There have been games in my career here that have been loud and your ears ring for three or four hours after the game,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “And this was loud. My ears are ringing.”
Matt McCraw scored 14, and Dan Nwaelele and Nick Welch had 13 points apiece for the Falcons, who didn’t get any points from their reserves.
After winning 13 in a row, Air Force has lost two of three. The Falcons close the regular season at home against the Cougars on Feb. 27.
“They’re tough at home and we’re tough at home,” Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “I’ve said it from the start and I’ll say it again, that this is going to be a great race.”
The Falcons fell behind 35-21 when Plaisted opened the second half with a dunk, a block and another dunk. Air Force answered with an 11-2 run and made four straight 3-pointers during one stretch to keep it close.
After Jimmy Balderson put BYU up 49-42 on a layup, Welch converted consecutive three-point plays and cut BYU’s lead to 49-48 with 5:49 left to play. But Plaisted answered with a layup, then after Air Force missed just its third 3-pointer of the half, Ainge hit a 3 from the corner to give BYU a 54-48 lead.
It was BYU’s only 3-pointer of the half, but it was huge. The Falcons never got closer than three the rest of the way.
“I was open. I hit it and I started to smile because it was about stinkin’ time I made a shot,” Ainge said.
He had plenty of company. The Cougars shot just 11-for-26 in the second half, going 1-for-9 from 3-point range, and couldn’t clinch it until the final minute.
Welch made a free throw with 48 seconds left to cut the lead to 54-51, but Plaisted made two from the line, then Young grabbed a loose ball at midcourt and took it in for a layup on Welch. Young lofted the ball into the basket with his left hand as he was fouled by Welch, then made the free throw to give BYU a 59-51 lead with 19 seconds left.
“I was going to get it. I wasn’t going to let it get out of bounds because I wasn’t sure who touched it,” Young said. “I was just able to make a play on it.”
After Young’s play, the BYU fans began chanting “over-rated” and the celebration continued until the buzzer.