The Colorado State Ram's big man J.J. Avila shines when he plays against the Air Force Falcons. A season ago, Avila averaged 20.5 points per game in his two matchups against Air Force. Today, without starting guard Daniel Bejarano who was out with strep throat, Avila showed up with a dominating performance against the Falcons as the Rams prevailed with a 92-87 victory.
The Falcons (8-6,1-2) entered Saturday's contest with some momentum after getting their first conference win of the season against San Jose State earlier this week. The Rams (14-2,1-2) on the other hand were looking for a chance to overcome a two game skid where their shooting has been far below average. Saturday's contest gave viewers everything they could ask for, and more, as the Falcons and Rams fought hard for 40 minutes.
Following a 4-0 Air Force run to start the game, the Rams and Falcons were trading baskets for the first 10 minutes of the first half. The score was at 19-18 when the clock hit 10:00, after that, the first half was all Colorado State. John Gillon made a three point shot that jump started an explosive offensive performance for Colorado State. The Rams went on a 29-11 run to end the first half, giving them a 48-28 lead. Reserve guard Carlton Hurst, who only see's limited action for the Rams, led the offensive explosion with seven of his eight points scored in the last ten minutes of the first half.
The second half of the game is where the real excitement happened. Air Force hit two quick three point shots to open up the second half to help lower the lead to 16 points in opening minutes of the half. At the 17:34 mark of the half, Avila went over the back of Zach Kocur while attempting to get an offensive rebound and a fight between the two teams broke out.
Avila ended up with a dead ball foul and a technical foul. Colorado State's Tiel Daniels received a technical foul. Air Force's Matt Mooney, who throws the punch when Avila was on the ground, got ejected from the game and the Falcon's Justin Hammonds received a technical foul as well. It took the officials 17 minutes to decipher which player would get which penalty. Each team got four free throws and Colorado State got possession.
The fight between the two teams may have gotten Mooney ejected, but the momentum of the game shifted. After the free throws, Air Force went on an impressive second half run. Good three point shooting helped spark a run that would eventually get the Falcons to within three points of the Rams, but with 50 seconds left, the Rams were able to hit a few free throws and cling on to the hard fought victory.
Entering the game, both Colorado State and Air Force were in the top three in the conference in points per game. Saturday's game definitely didn't lack scoring as each team scored more than 10 points over their season averages. The three point shot for both teams is the reason why scores got so high. After struggling to make a three point shot against New Mexico and Wyoming, the Rams finally got back on track, shooting 8-26 from long range. The Falcons shot 16-35, doubling their season average of three point shots made per game.
Air Force had two players with 20-plus points on the day, with Marek Olesinski with 20 points and Max Yon with 25. Hammonds was the only other Falcon in double digit scoring with 13 points, but had a double-double by adding 11 rebounds. Hammonds and Yon led Air Force with seven assists a piece.
Four of the Colorado State starters reached double digits on Saturday against Air Force, led by Avila who got a double-double with 28 points and 14 rebounds, both game highs. Stanton Kidd, who has struggled since conference play has started, found his offensive touch by shooting 4-6 from long range, good for 17 points. Joe De Ciman and Gian Clavell, who got the start in place of Bejarano, each scored 12 points a piece. Avila also led the team with five assists.
With the loss, Air Force moves to 8-7,1-3 on the season. This was Air Force's second close loss against a top conference team after losing to San Diego State by four points to open conference play. The Falcons will look to right the ship while on the road in the most difficult place to play in the Mountain West. Air Force will take on New Mexico at "The Pit" on Wednesday, January 14th. The game tips off at 7:00 pm MT and can be seen on Root Sports.
Colorado State finally got a win to snap a two game losing streak. Fortunately for the Rams, they were able to survive a game without Bejerano, who has been one of their better offensive players. The Rams move to 15-3, 2-2 on the season. This game shows that the Rams haven't lost their offensive touch and they are capable of scoring a lot of points. The Rams return back home to Fort Collins on Wednesday, January 14th, where they will host the Nevada Wolfpack at 7:00 pm MT. That game can be viewed on the Mountain West Network.