USAFA, Colo. - Carl Hall posted a double-double with a game-high 21 points and 10 rebounds and Wichita State held off a furious late-game rally to defeat Air Force 72-69 Sunday at Clune Arena.
Air Force's Michael Lyons missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have tied the game that enabled the Shockers to remain undefeated at 8-0, while the Falcons suffered their first loss at home and fell to 6-2.
"I thought it was going in," said Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich. "I thought initially Todd (Fletcher) was going to dribble up and take his shot because he was open, but he pulled and threw a scoop pass to Mike as a trailer. Mike usually makes that shot, but it was a hard shot late in the game and contested. He just missed it."
Lyons, the Mountain West's leading scorer entering the game, struggled in the first half as he missed all eight of his field goal attempts, including three from 3-point range, and was scoreless at halftime. Mike Fitzgerald picked up the slack, however, scoring 13 points in the first half as the teams were tied at 32 apiece at the break.
"Mike (Lyons) was the leading scorer in the conference coming into the game so he's got a bulls-eye on his back so there are going to be guys flying at him and really guarding him tight," said Pilipovich. "It was nice to see some other guys step up and make some shots tonight."
Fitzgerald led the Falcons with 18 points, while Taylor Broekhuis added 17 and Lyons finished with 12. Broekhuis, who scored 11 of his points after halftime, was fouled with seven seconds left and the Falcons trailing 70-68, but missed the first free throw. He made the second and Air Force was forced to foul WSU's Malcolm Armstead, who sank both of his free throws to put the Shockers up by three and set up Lyons' final try.
The Falcons were just 14-of-25 (56%) from the free-throw line, while Wichita State made 10 of their 14 attempts.
"We shoot every day in practice and we make free throws," said Pilipovich. "We're a good shooting team and we're better than we've shot here over the last few games. We have to make free throws. Taylor's hurting right now, but he gave us everything tonight. Carl Hall is a lot bigger and thicker than him and he banged with him for the majority of the game."
Hall was 9-of-10 from the field, including a perfect 6-of-6 in the first half. Cleanthony Early added 12 points and Demetric Williams scored 10, including a big three-pointer with 3:27 left that gave WSU a 65-59 lead after the Falcons had reeled off seven straight points to come back from a 62-52 deficit.
"That's an unbelievable team," said Pilipovich. "They won 27 games last year. They went to the NIT two years ago and the NCAA's last year. Gregg (Marshall) is a really good coach. They are physical. He'll tell you they foul on every play because they are so physical. I'm proud of our guys because the stood up to that. Our practices all week were really physical this week. We take this now because this will become a conference game later in the year."
The Falcons complete their three-game homestand on Saturday, Dec. 8 against Arkansas-Piune Bluff at Clune Arena. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m.