After picking up their first win away away from Clune Arena on the season, the No. 10 Air Force Falcons will take on the No. 2 Colorado State Rams in the quarterfinal of the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship Thursday night.
Following the victory, Air Force junior guard Jacob Van spoke of what it meant to the team to finally get a win away from their home court.
“I think it means everything,” Van said. “If we had to win one game away from Clune I’d want it to be this one because it builds momentum going into the next one. And we have the confidence now, and we’re not looking behind us, we’re looking ahead of us.”
The meeting between the service academy and CSU is the second of the season, with the Rams winning the first matchup handily 85-58 on Jan. 7. Playing without leading scorer Hayden Graham, the Falcons had no answers for Ram offense or Gian Clavell, who finished the day with 28 points.
In total, the Rams have beat the Falcons 11 straight times, which is not lost on Graham.
“(Colorado State is) a good basketball team,” Graham said following Air Force’s over Wyoming. “They’re aggressive. They play full speed all the time. They’re a tough team. Over the years we haven’t been able to (beat them) —they’ve had our number. This year we’ve kind of made some changes that we beat teams we don’t usually beat, San Diego State, Utah State at home. And this year it’s been up and down, but this is the year to make some stuff happen. And I don’t want to be done.”
On Jan. 7, CSU led for all but 2:51 in the game and after taking a 33-28 lead into the break. Colorado State came out in the second half to route the Falcons, shooting 63 percent (17-of-27) from the floor and 56.3 percent (9-of-16) from the 3-point line.On the day, the Rams would make a season-best 14 3-point attempts, nine of which were made by Clavell or Emmanuel Omogbo.
After upsetting the Cowboys Tuesday, Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich explained that stopping the senior duo would be an uphill challenge.
“He is so talented,” Pilipovich said of Clavell. “He can score different ways. He can shoot it so deep. He plays with unbelievable passion for the game. We may try to find him in the hotel tonight and lock him down a little bit and keep him there until Friday so he doesn’t show up tomorrow. In all seriousness, our effort has to be on him.”
Pilipovich continued on Omogbo, “When those guys shoot it and miss it, who gets it? Omogbo. He’s an unbelievable player, he’s so confident to gain offensive rebounds, and kick it to his teammates. It’s going to be a big challenge. They’re second in our league to the last game of the year, they’ve won 20 games. They’ve done some incredible things. They’re a really good team. I think they’re an NCAA tournament team. We’re going to have to be very good tomorrow to overcome some of the things they do well.”
Colorado State and Air Force will tipoff in the quarterfinal of the 2017 Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship Thursday at 7:00 p.m. MT. The game can be seen on CBS Sports Network.
Collegian sports reporter Justin Michael can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @JustinTMichael.