Rams Fall to Red-Hot AFA

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- Air Force's best start in school history has come with plenty of easy home wins. <p>Not this time.

Tim Keller had 17 points and Nick Welch hit six free throws in the final 65 seconds to help Air Force hold off Colorado State 52-44 Monday night for its 10th straight home win -- first under 10 points.

"All night we were having mental lapses on offense and defense," said Keller, who was 4-for-6 on 3-pointers. "It was a grind out there. We were going to take it any way we could get it." Air Force (17-3, 7-1 Mountain West) led by 18 early in the second half, but Colorado State seemed to get a spark after coach Dale Layer was called for a technical foul midway through. The Rams (11-10, 3-5) became more aggressive on defense and challenged Air Force's shooters on the perimeter, holding the Falcons without a field goal for more than six minutes.

Colorado State also started hitting its outside shots, with Shelton Johnson and Micheal Morris sinking 3-pointers during a 15-4 run that cut Air Force's lead to 39-32 with 8:20 left.

"I thought we played with great effort and intensity and we battled," Layer said. "We could have shut her down at halftime and we didn't." Robinson made it 45-39 with a 3-pointer with just over four minutes left, then Phillip Thomasson hit a turnaround in the lane to get the Rams within four.

But Welch wouldn't let Colorado State any closer.

He hit two free throws with 1:05 left to put Air Force up 47-41, then had a steal and hit two more to put the Falcons up eight. A.J. Kuhle added another free throw with 25 seconds left as the cadets started a chant of "Warm up the bus!" "I'm glad we had the experience to win a game like this at home because we're going to need to win a game like this down the stretch," Air Force coach Joe Scott said.

Welch finished with 16 points to help Air Force set a school record with its seventh conference victory. The Falcons also matched the 1957-58 team (17-6) for most wins in a season.

Freddy Robinson had 15 points to lead Colorado State, which has lost six of nine. The Rams shot just four free throws and couldn't overcome playing without 7-foot center Matt Nelson for the third straight game.

"You take anybody who's averaging a double-double in the league and take him out, you think everyone is going to struggle," Layer said. "That's just part of it. You've got to rise to the occasion."

Neither team could get much going early in what was a physical game from the start. Matt Williams scored on a power move for Colorado State's first basket, but that was about the only open shot the Rams got in the first half.

Air Force extended its zone out to Colorado State's shooters and challenged every shot inside. The Rams didn't do much to counter it, relying almost exclusively on one-on-one moves to get shots to finish the half 8-for-21. Air Force also blocked five shots.

Air Force wasn't much better until Keller got hot.

He hit three straight 3-pointers -- the second from five feet behind the line -- for a 9-0 run that put Air Force up 22-11 with 5{ minutes left.

Keller added another from long range with 1:45 left -- his fourth of the half -- then Jacob Burtschi then stole the inbounds pass and hit a 3-pointer to bring the crowd to its feet and put the Falcons up 30-15.

"When the first one went in, I kept getting open shots and kept putting them up," said Keller, was 5-for-6 for 16 points in the half. "After a couple of them went in, it was like if I didn't shoot it I'd feel bad." It didn't get much better for Colorado State in the second.

Joel Gerlach opened with a 3-pointer in the corner, then Keller hit a cutting Welch for a layup at the shot clock buzzer to put Air Force up 35-17.

The Rams, already thin without Nelson, then had to sit Williams after he picked up his fourth foul just three minutes into the second half.

The frustration boiled over less than a minute later, when Layer was called for a technical foul for stomping and knocking over a dry erase board after Kuhle wasn't called for a clearout.

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