There’s no such thing as a moral victory, right?
Air Force proved that Saturday by almost pulling off the stunner of the weekend by going on the road and nearly beating No. 12 New Mexico. The Lobos hit a late basket and some free throws to win 59-56, but not before Air Force gave them a helluva (and totally unexpected) challenge.
This season has been a painful mess for the Falcons, as they’ve suffered through a rash of injuries and another dreadful showing in Mountain West Conference play. Last Saturday, BYU beat Air Force by 43 points, the third-worse loss in program history. So going into this past weekend, it was safe to assume New Mexico would throttle Air Force, just like they did in Colorado Springs a few weeks earlier.
Air Force (9-16, 1-11) turned in a gritty performance, proving that they “can compete with anybody,” in the words of senior forward Grant Parker, who led the Falcons with 17 points, including 15 in the second half.
Air Force took the lead in the final minute, and even managed two shots to try and re-take the lead in the final moments. Win or lose, the performance showed plenty of guts, and had to have restored some confidence in the previously shaky squad. Air Force proved to themselves that they’re far better than the team that lost by 48 points to BYU. The Falcons held New Mexico to less than 60 points for the first time this season, and shot better than 50 percent from the field.
“A loss is always tough,” senior guard Avery Merriex said after the game. “I feel like you can learn some things. Last week when we went to BYU we weren’t that focused. Coach really made a point of telling us we always have to be focused. That helped us play a little better this time.”
It’ll be interesting to see if Air Force can parlay their newfound confidence into a couple wins in the last four games of the year. The New Mexico game will not save their season, but it could go a long way towards moving the program in the right direction. The Falcons have only won one MWC game so far this year, and they’ll be an incredible longshot to make a run in the conference tournament. But there is no reason for Air Force to believe they can’t build on Saturday and pull of an upset or two in the season’s final weeks.
More pictures from the game after the jump.