McCraw’s big shots lift Air Force to 14-1

By DAN WOLKEN - THE GAZETTE Updated: January 8, 2006 at 12:00 am • Published: January 8, 2006
As a naturally gifted shooter who led the Mountain West Conference in 3-point percentage last season, Air Force guard Matt McCraw says he feels like he’s going to make everything he throws up. On average, McCraw is right about half the time. But on the night the Falcons needed it most, he reached that rare place where confidence and skill merge into perfection. Not only did McCraw make all four of his 3-point attempts in the second half Saturday against San Diego State, but his free throws with 4.2 seconds left and subsequent steal of the Aztecs’ inbounds pass sealed a 65-62 victory at Clune Arena that could have easily gotten away. Instead, the Falcons (14-1, 2-0 MWC) won their 12th straight in front of 5,213 fans and snatched away a crucial win over an Aztecs team that looked like a conference title contender. “Tonight I was feeling it,” McCraw said. “My teammates, they find me all the time, and tonight I just hit shots.” McCraw’s 19-point performance stood out mostly because of the timeliness of his shots during a second half in which the Aztecs (8-6, 1-1) erased an 11-point Air Force edge at halftime and took a 47-45 lead with under nine minutes left. McCraw responded with a one-handed runner to beat the shot clock from 17 feet on the next possession, tying the score, and his 3-pointer with 7:30 left put Air Force ahead 50-47. Another 3 with 5:43 remaining gave Air Force a 53-51 lead, and he buried the biggest one with 1:38 left to extend the Falcons’ edge to 61-55. But he wasn’t the only Falcon who came up with a brilliant shooting night. Forward Dan Nwaelele made 5 of 6 from the 3-point line and nailed a pair of big free throws with nine seconds left to put Air Force ahead 63-59. Those turned out to be key because Aztecs guard Richie Williams made a running 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left to give his team a chance. “When you win close games, you have to make bigtime shots, you have to step up to the free-throw line and make free throws, and I can’t say enough about our players,” Falcons coach Jeff Bzdelik said. “Tremendous character, tremendous confidence. This conference is so competitive top to bottom that you are going to have to win close games. There’s going to be a heck of a lot of them.” Though San Diego State made 15 of 23 field-goal attempts in the second half, sparked by guard Brandon Heath scoring 13 straight points coming out of halftime, it was the little things that made the difference. “We’re an unselfish team and it showed up tonight,” senior guard Antoine Hood said. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or dwolken@gazette.com NEXT AFA (14-1, 2-0) at Wyoming (8-7, 1-1) 7 p.m. Wednesday, 740/560 AM
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