MILWAUKEE - Ole Miss and Air Force were locked in a defensive battle, tied 19-19 at halftime in the second round of the BCA Tournament Monday night, with both teams looking for their offenses somewhere inside the massive Bradley Center.
Sometime in the second half, the Falcons found theirs. The Rebels, meanwhile, are still searching.
Air Force pulled away and won going away 60-36 to advance to the finals of this tournament and will face host Marquette Tuesday night at 7:45 p.m. The Rebels will play Illinois State, a 60-32 loser to Marquette, at 5:30 p.m.
"The first half wasn't a surprise, because we knew this would be a low-scoring game," said Ole Miss Coach Rod Barnes, whose team fell to 1-1 on the season. "In the second half, they got it going a little bit, and they went to the free throw line too much. They were able to build their lead as the second half went on.
"Give the Air Force players and coaches credit," Rod said of last season's Mountain West Conference champions. "They did a really good job handling our pressure and executing for 40 minutes. When you have a team that's been together that long and been in the NCAA Tournament, they're tough to rattle. We make no excuses. They played better than us tonight."
Air Force Coach Chris Mooney agreed that his team played well.
"It was a terrific win for us," he said. "To beat a team from the SEC and to beat a team nationally respected for its defense is a tremendous accomplishment. We had seven turnovers, and I'll be willing to bet that's the fewest turnovers Ole Miss forces all year. That's just a credit to our guys' toughness and skillfulness."
That both teams struggled offensively in the first half made for a break-even game at intermission. Ole Miss had a chance to get things started right as the second half got underway. Londrick Nolen missed a 3-pointer, but the Rebels got the rebound. Seconds later Ole Miss turned the basketball over, and Air Force immediately went downcourt to take the lead for good.
A patented Air Force backdoor layup, a sign of things to come in this one, by Matt McGraw was good, and he was fouled by Kendrick Fox. McGraw made the free throw and the Falcons had a lead they would not relinquish.
The advantage was 25-19 on a 3-pointer by Antoine Hood at the 17:06 mark of the second half. And while it was still quite early, it was evident the Rebels had their work cut out for them in this one.
The Rebels simply could not get anything going offensively in the second half. There was no magic formula to either the Falcons' effective defense or the Rebels' lack of offense. What Air Force did to stop Ole Miss worked, and Ole Miss' counter attack failed as the game wore on.
A 3-point basket by Tim Anderson gave the Falcons their first double-digit lead of the contest at 35-25 with 10:11 remaining. The rest of the contest Air Force simply pulled away from the Rebels and rolled on to victory.
Rod said the game must not only go into the loss column but also the learning column for the Rebels.
"We had some breakdowns because we have some guys who are new to our system," Barnes said. "A team like Air Force will take advantage of situations like that. After they got a little lead, we tried to pick up the pressure. But with our inexperience it didn't work. They are a talented team that will beat a lot of people."
Rod said the defensive changes Air Force made during the contest were difficult for his team to adjust to, especially the younger players.
"Sometimes they were in a match-up, and sometimes they were in a man," he said. "It was tough on our guys at times. I thought on offense we also missed some easy shots. We got the opportunity to get the ball in the post a lot of times and we came out with nothing. We'd get it down low and they'd knock it out of our hands, or something would happen that we'd turn it over. And then at times we just didn't make shots."
Ole Miss shot only 33 percent (14-42) for the contest, and only 26 percent in the second half. Meanwhile the Falcons managed to improve their shooting in the second half from 38 percent in half one to 55 percent in half two; 47 percent for the game (17-36).
Air Force outrebounded Ole Miss 30-23 with the difference all coming on the defensive board as the Falcons claimed a 21-14 edge there.
Ole Miss shot only 21 percent from 3-point range (3-14) and was 5-8 from the free throw line (63 percent).
The Falcons shot 47 percent (8-17) from 3-point land and were 18-29 (62 percent) from the line.
Ole Miss had 12 turnovers to the Falcons' seven.
The Rebs had only one player in double figures and that was Todd Abernethy who led the team last night with 18 points and was named SEC Player of the Week for his effort. Hood with 15 led a trio of Falcons in double digits.
There were three technicals called on Ole Miss, including one on Barnes for being too far out on the court, according to the referee. The Falcons were called for one technical, a double tech for AFA's Jacob Burtschi and the Rebels' Bam Doyne. Tommie Eddie picked up the other for Ole Miss.
Rebs fall to Falcons
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