FORT COLLINS - Moments before tip-off Saturday at Moby Arena, an errant pass during warm-ups hit Air Force junior forward Jacob Burtschi square in the face. Blood began flowing from his nose, and at once it became clear just how the Falcons have done this. How they have survived three coaches in three seasons, how they have thrived with their firstteam All-Conference center sitting out the year with injuries and how they have thrust themselves into the NCAA Tournament picture when the nation’s “bracketologists” clearly want them out. See, no matter how much blood and guts they have to spill, the Falcons seem to have more in reserve. It’s why they’ve set a school record with 24 wins. It’s why they seem to come up with new heroes every day. And it’s why they beat Colorado State 63-59 when so many things seemed to be going against them. “For what they’ve gone through,” coach Jeff Bzdelik said, “all the challenges, all the adversity, these young men are the very best.” It would be hard to argue after watching Air Force come back from a seven-point deficit early in the second half, take a 60-59 lead on Antoine Hood’s free throws with 1:17 remaining and seal the victory when sophomore guard Tim Anderson nailed a 3-pointer with 11 seconds left off a feed from Hood. Not only did Anderson’s shot cap a 24-5 regular-season record, it clinched a sixth straight win, a 12-4 conference record and the second seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament beginning Thursday in Denver. Air Force will play Wyoming at 7 p.m. at the Pepsi Center. “That just shows how unselfish of a team we are,” Hood said after scoring 15 points with eight rebounds, five assists and no turnovers. “I could have forced it, but I said no, winning is all that’s important. Tim made the shot, I made the pass and that’s all you can ask for.” Air Force struggled with 7-footers Jason Smith and Stuart Creason who scored 17 and 13 points, respectively. CSU also used its height advantage to take a 20-6 rebounding edge in the first half and shut down Air Force’s dribble penetration toward the rim. But the Falcons made clutch shot after clutch shot, burying 13 of 27 from 3-point range, including 6 of 10 by guard Matt McCraw, who had been slumping much of February. “I knew eventually they’d start to fall and they did today,” said McCraw, who gave Air Force its biggest lead at 52-45 with 7:27 left only to see the Rams charge back in front 59-58 with 1:36 left on Stephan Gilling’s 3-pointer. After that, however, Air Force showed its courage and CSU showed why its 4-12 league record stands as perhaps the greatest underachievement in MWC history after starting the season 11-2 and possessing the league’s best NBA prospect in Smith. With the game on the line, the Rams couldn’t get a shot for Smith and instead settled for a 15-footer that Creason missed badly with 50 seconds left. On the other end, Anderson then buried the biggest shot of the game, capping off a 3-for-3 performance from 3-point range. That’s the same Anderson who had no confidence in his shot as a freshman, making 4 of 26. “It’s been building, and I told him from Day 1, ‘Tim I have great confidence in you, I have more confidence in you than probably you have in yourself and I don’t understand why,’” Bzdelik said. “If you miss a shot don’t worry about it, the next one’s going in and that’s the way you’ve got to play.” That’s the way Air Force has played all season. Once again it worked to perfection. CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0258 or email@example.com NEXT MWC Tournament: Air Force (24-5, 12-4) vs. Wyoming (12-17, 5-11), 7 p.m. Thursday, 740, 560 AM
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