Facebook Twitter

Mountain men: BYU ends Falcons’ home streak, clinch MWC title

SHARE Mountain men: BYU ends Falcons’ home streak, clinch MWC title
BYU's Trent Plaisted (44) and Air Force center John Frye (54) reach for a rebound on Tuesday.

BYU’s Trent Plaisted (44) and Air Force center John Frye (54) reach for a rebound on Tuesday.

Jack Dempsey, Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — When Dave Rose reached the locker room following BYU's 62-58 upset of No. 25 Air Force Tuesday night, his players welcomed him with a celebration cheer that lasted long and rang loud through a closed door and into the hallway under the belly of famed Clune Arena.

Nobody in the Cougar corner wanted it to end. They'd done what nobody else had in 30 straight tries and humbled the Falcons in the process with a convincing four-point win on a court that's proved a bone yard to visitors.

"I'm proud of our guys, they played hard, they never gave up," said Rose, whose win over the Falcons may be his biggest in his two-year career, the Cougars' third victory over a ranked team this season.

BYU overcame an 11-point second-half deficit to race ahead of the Falcons with key rebounding, big 3-point shots and free throws and key defensive stops. The win gave BYU the No. 1 seed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament in Las Vegas next week and clinched at least a tie for the league title.

After the big win, the Cougars left Clune Arena on a charter flight to Provo where they'll prepare for Saturday's final regular season game with Utah in the Marriott Center with a 22-7 overall record, 12-3 in league play.

A win over Utah could give the Cougars their first outright basketball title since 1987-88 — a run of 19 years.

"Air Force has a personality and I think that defensively we did a good job. We were very fortunate tonight. We did our thing and this is a quality win for our program. To beat a top-25 team on their home court in late February ... I think that is very good for our postseason," said Rose.

Austin Ainge scored 14 points, making all four of his 3-point shots in the first half to lead the Cougars. But it was key free-throw shooting by Trent Plaisted and automatic inside scoring and rebounding late from Keena Young that preserved the win, giving the Cougars the most dominating road record in the league at 5-3.

The Cougars trailed the Falcons 49-38 with 13:14 to play when Jimmy Balderson and Jonathan Tavernari combined for a pair of bombs. Tavernari added a driving layin in between those two 3-point shots and the Cougars trailed 49-46 with 10:32 to play.

This is when Plaisted, who has struggled from the line all season for the Cougars, stepped up to the charity stripe and with the clock reading a symbolic 9:11 — cadets in Section Eight right under the Cougar basket screaming and waving their hands to distract him — promptly buried a pair of free throws to lift the Cougars to within one point.

"Watch, Trent will be giving the rest of us lessons in practice Wednesday," said Ainge.

"All I was thinking is I had to make these," said Plaisted, who made all four of his free throws in the closing nine minutes.

This is when Young took control of the game, scoring eight straight points on four consecutive Cougar possessions to put BYU ahead 56-55 with 5:07 to play. In that stretch, BYU outscored Air Force 18-4.

The Falcons had no answer for Young, failing to complete their patented drives and misfiring from the 3-point line. After Jacob Birtschi knocked down a trey at 4:50 to give the Falcons a 58-56 lead, the Cougars scored the next six points and held AFA scoreless.

The comeback from 11 down was nothing new, said Ainge.

"We've been doing that all year, sometimes it's worked, sometimes it hasn't," he said. "We've been fighting all year. Coach Rose has been telling us in every practice, in every huddle to keep fighting, keep fighting and the score will take care of itself. That's what happened."

The Cougars outshot the Falcons 51 to 45 percent from the field including 57 to 38 percent from beyond the arc. After getting out-rebounded in the first half 15-12, the Cougars, thanks to Young's dominance in the final three minutes, held the edge on the boards 29-25.

The loss ended AFA's 30-game win streak, enabling the Cougars to post the best home record in the nation with a win over Utah on Saturday.

The Falcons have now gone 3-4 in their last seven games, a disappointing end to the careers of this senior laden and ranked squad.

"Everybody is so worried about the consequence of each and every game," said AFA coach Jeff Bzdelik. "Let's worry about playing the game. That's what I told my team. All of that other stuff will take care of itself. Hey, BYU is 22-7 ... we're 23-7, RPI, strength of schedule ... we're all in the same ballpark. Yeah, we've hit a couple of bumps here, but you know what, everybody hits some bumps. We're going to have to respond in the tournament."

E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com