Air Force has No. 22 San Diego State's number

Updated: February 2, 2013, 7:22 PM ET
Associated Press

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- San Diego State star Jamaal Franklin did everything he could to keep undersized Air Force from toppling the 22nd-ranked Aztecs again.

But, like his free throw in the final minute and his 3-pointer with 5 seconds left, the Aztecs came up just a little bit short Saturday.

Franklin scored 14 of his 25 points in the final 9 minutes as San Diego State stormed back from a double-digit deficit. He also grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out six assists and stole two passes.

It wasn't enough.

Franklin's only miss in 12 free throws proved critical in the Aztecs' 70-67 loss at Clune Arena, where the cadets rushed the court like it was Cameron Indoor Stadium.

After missing his free throw following a hard foul and a fall to the floor, Franklin sank his second shot from the stripe to pull the Aztecs to 68-67 with 51 seconds remaining, then watched Kamryn Williams nearly dribble the ball off his foot before drawing a foul and sinking two free throws on the other end with 19 seconds left.

Franklin had a chance to send the game into overtime but missed a 3-pointer with 5 seconds to go.

The Aztecs got the rebound and another chance, but a 3-pointer just before the buzzer by James Rahon, who scored 14 points, rimmed out.

Michael Lyons, who led the Falcons (14-6, 5-2 Mountain West) with 20 points, grabbed the rebound and heaved the ball off the overhanging scoreboard as cadets stormed the court.

"We got beat today," Franklin said. "I always say, when I'm on the court, I'm enemies with everyone I play against, but after the game you have to show good sportsmanship and give credit when it is due."

Franklin's missed free throw with just under a minute remaining was costly.

"That's real big," Lyons said, "because we still had the lead."

And that one-point lead was also a psychological edge, suggested Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich.

"That was really big for us," Pilipovich said. "That obviously gives us a little bit of confidence there because now it's not a tie game. So, that was a big miss for us."

Air Force, picked to finish last in the nine-team conference, is 3-78 against ranked teams -- yet two of the wins have come against San Diego State (16-5, 4-3) within the last year.

The Falcons also beat the Aztecs 58-56 on Feb. 18, 2012.

Asked why they match up so well against San Diego State, three Falcons stared blankly at each other in the postgame interview room. Finally, senior guard Todd Fletcher retorted: "Do we match up well?"

On this afternoon, they did.

"To win a game like this you have to make plays. You have to get a lucky bounce on a play and they had one more than we did," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We still had an opportunity but we didn't get it."

The Aztecs had beaten their previous two opponents by 21 points each, including a 55-34 blowout of then-No. 15 New Mexico, their biggest margin of victory over a ranked team in school history.

But they were just 2 for 19 from beyond the arc at Air Force, where they were outscored from long range by 30 points.

The Aztecs outrebounded the Falcons 37-23, including 15-5 on the offensive glass.

"Our strength for us against Air Force should be offensive rebounding," Fisher said. "That was something that we talked about should be a huge plus for us. It was, but it wasn't quite enough."

San Diego State inched its way back into the rankings with its two big wins over Nevada and New Mexico last week, but could fall out again.

As for the Falcons, they have a chance to surge into first place Wednesday night at The Pit in Albuquerque, where they face 20th-ranked New Mexico.

The media picked the Falcons to finish last in the deep Mountain West Conference, a preseason prediction that's plastered to the locker room doors and across grease boards.

"We have some great teams in this league, but ninth? Come on!" Pilipovich said. "I joke that there were a couple of guys that picked us 10th -- and we're in a nine-team league. We constantly remind ourselves: This is what people think of us."

Maybe not anymore.

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Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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