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New Mexico 62, Air Force 59

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- It's the type of give-and-take that a
coach and player can joke about when the end result is a must-have
win.

New Mexico senior guard Mark Walters arrived at the interview
room Saturday just as Lobos coach Ritchie McKay was leaving. McKay
couldn't resist taking a dig at Walters for his errant pass in the
final seconds that went right into Air Force guard Antoine Hood's
hands with the Lobos holding onto a 60-59 lead.

"Nice pass to Hood," McKay told Walters.

"He was wide open," replied Walters.

Walters, himself not open most of the night, scored 20 points
and made up for his misguided pass by drawing a charge from Hood
seconds later as New Mexico extended its homecourt winning streak
to 21 games with a 62-59 win over the Falcons.

The victory against Air Force (16-3, 4-2 Mountain West), which
went into the game tied with San Diego State for the league lead,
denied Air Force a rare win in Albuquerque.

New Mexico (12-6, 3-2) has lost to the Falcons only once in the
40-year history of The Pit but this time needed the clutch scoring
of Walters, some tenacious defense down the stretch and solid free
throw shooting -- 13-of-15 in the second half.

New Mexico is 24-1 against the Falcons since The Pit opened in
1966.

Still, the Falcons, off to their best start in school history,
took the Lobos to the final buzzer. Jacob Burtschi, who scored a
career-high 25 points, came up short on his off-balance 3-pointer
just before the buzzer.

Burtschi, who hit five 3s, took a pass from Hood, who had
penetrated into the lane, but Burtschi didn't get a good look. Air
Force coach Jeff Bzdelik said the Falcons were trying to get
anybody open.

"We were just trying to get into a gap and draw two
defenders," Bzdelik said.

Burtschi hit his fifth 3-pointer of the game with 23 seconds
left to get the Falcons within 60-59 and on the ensuing New Mexico
possession, Walters threw the ball right at Hood. Hood drove into
the lane and tried to force his way past Walters, who stood his
ground and got the charging call on Hood.

"I saw Hood going to the hoop so I just tried to step in front
of him and not let him score, try to get him to the line," said
Walters. "Luckily he charged."

"It looked like one (official) called a block and the other a
charge," Hood said. "The charge overruled the block and there's
nothing I can do about it."

New Mexico freshman Ryan Kersten was fouled with 8 seconds left
and hit both free throws, setting up Burtschi's last second
airball.

New Mexico led 60-56 with 30.6 seconds after Kris Collins, a
career 59 percent free throw shooter, hit two free throws with 30.6
seconds remaining. Collins finished 5-for-5 from the foul line and
was part of a five-point turnaround late in the second half that
hurt the Falcons' chances.

Trailing 49-47, the Air Force came up with a steal and had a
3-on-1 break going. Dan Nwaelele found Hood open underneath, but
Hood missed the open layup. New Mexico got the rebound and Collins
hit a layup and was fouled. Collins' three-point play put the Lobos
up 52-47 with 6:28 left.

Air Force managed two ties in the final 2:17, the first at 54-54
on a 3-pointer by Matt McCraw and at 56 when McCraw hit two free
throws after being fouled by Lobo Tony Danridge on a 3-point shot
with 1:14 remaining.

Hood finished with 13 points.

Walters hit four 3-pointers, 7 of 12 shots and had 8 rebounds.

Danridge scored 12 points and Kersten 11 for New Mexico which
hit a season-high 58.3 percent of its shots against the best
defensive scoring team in the country.

Air Force trailed 9-2 early but rallied to take a 25-24 lead at
halftime. Walters, who scored 15 of his 20 points in the second
half, scored eight straight points, including a pair of
back-to-back 3s to give New Mexico a 41-36 lead with 11:12 left in
the game.

But the Falcons just kept battling back.

"Our guys did a great job of not letting that bother them,"
McKay said. "We played through Air Force's toughness and our
missed defensive opportunities."