March 5, 2005
By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) - Matt McCraw scored 18 points and hit fourfree throws in the final 27 seconds, and Antoine Hood added 18 points to helpAir Force hold off Wyoming 61-56 Saturday in both teams' season finale.
Air Force (18-11, 9-5 Mountain West) wrapped up the third seed in nextweek's conference tournament in Denver, using a stifling defense to overcome apoor second half offensively.
The Falcons finished with the second-most wins in team history - they had 22last season - but will likely need to win the conference tournament to make ittwo straight trips to the NCAA tournament after 42 years of staying home.
Wyoming (15-12, 7-7) had a miserable first half offensively and was onlymarginally better in the second to lose for the third time in four games.
Even with their struggles, the Cowboys stayed with Air Force, cutting thelead to 56-53 on Dion Sherrill's 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. Hood hit just1-of-2 free throws at the other end, but Jacob Burtschi snared the rebound onthe second and McCraw hit four straight from the line to seal it.
Wyoming will be the fourth or fifth seed in the conference tournament,depending on the winner of Saturday night's game between Brigham Young andNevada-Las Vegas.
Air Force finished with the nation's best scoring defense for the thirdstraight season and showed how it got there against Wyoming.
Forcing tough shots off the dribble, cutting off drives to the basket andcreating difficult passing angles to the post, the Falcons held the Cowboys to36 percent shooting and forced 17 turnovers.
Relegated to playing one-on-one offensively, Wyoming had scoreless streaksof 5:19 and 4:57 in the first half to finish with just 19 points, and had threeassists on 18 field goals overall.
Air Force was particularly effective against Jay Straight, holding Wyoming'sleading scorer to 5-of-18 shooting and forcing him into seven turnovers. TheFalcons did it by preventing Straight from beating them off the dribble,knocking him around when he did get in the lane and shutting down his crossoverdribble.
Frustrated with hitting the floor nearly a dozen times, Straight kept tryingto force his way into the lane in the second half without much success. Hefinished with 12 points - well below his 18.4 average - and just one assist.
It's a good thing Air Force's defense was playing so well because theoffense wasn't exactly lighting it up.
The Falcons worked the ball around with their usual efficiency in the firsthalf, hitting 12-of-24 shots to take a nine-point lead, then started to getsloppy in the second after Wyoming extended its defense.
Forcing passes and making bad decisions, the Falcons had just one field goalin nearly eight minutes midway through and had five turnovers in sevenpossessions to allow the Cowboys cut the lead to 36-30.
Air Force shot just 8-of-20 in the second half, but seemed to have an answerevery time Wyoming made a run.