The Nevada Wolf Pack lost a game at the free throw line Wednesday night.
The Wolf Pack missed 18 of its 32 free throws in a 75-70 loss to the Air Force Falcons in front of just 1,294 fans at Clune Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo. The loss is Nevada’s 11th in its last 13 games and leaves the Wolf Pack at 8-19 overall and 4-11 in the Mountain West with three regular season games remaining. Air Force improved to 13-14, 6-10.
Center A.J. West, who had 11 points and 16 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the year, missed 10 of his 15 free throws. The Wolf Pack’s .438 percentage from the line is its lowest in one game since entering the Mountain West in the 2012-13 season and its lowest since it went 3-of-9 (.333) against San Jose State on Jan. 12, 2012.
The Wolf Pack’s struggles at the line against Air Force comes after a three-game stretch against New Mexico, Wyoming and Boise State during which it made 35-of-43 (.833).
The Pack, which won at Air Force (75-56) last season and beat the Falcons (80-62) earlier this year (Jan. 3) at Lawlor Events Center, took a 33-32 lead into its halftime locker room. Eric Cooper had a 3-pointer and Tyron Criswell connected twice from beyond the arc as the Pack took a 14-10 lead six minutes into the game. D.J. Fenner, who had 18 points in 30 minutes off the bench, had a lay-up, dunk and steal in a span of 25 seconds as the Wolf Pack took a 27-25 lead with 7:16 to go in the opening half. Cooper, who tied his career high with 20 points, gave the Pack a 32-29 lead late in the first half with a layup.
The Wolf Pack’s struggles from the free throw line did not affect its shooting from the field. The Wolf Pack and Falcons each made 12-of-21 shots (57 percent) from the field in the first half. The Pack was 24-of-52 (46 percent) for the game. The Pack, though, was just 6-of-13 from the free throw line in the opening 20 minutes and 8-of-19 in the second half.
Cooper converted a layup for a 40-39 Wolf Pack lead with 15:40 to play in the second half. It would turn out to be the Pack’s last lead of the game as the Falcons dominated the next 12 minutes.
A 3-pointer by Air Force’s Marek Olesinski, giving the Falcons a 42-40 lead with 14:17 to play, started the Pack’s downfall. Max Yon then hit a 3-pointer as Air Force took a 50-43 lead with 14 minutes to go and Zach Kosur had a 3-pointer and two free throws for a 52-45 Air Force advantage with eight minutes to go.
Criswell, who had 12 points, had a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws in a span of 40 seconds as the Wolf Pack cut Air Force’s lead to 54-50 with 6:34 to play. West’s two free throws pulled the Pack to within 58-52 with 4:58 to play.
The Falcons then took control of the game, going on a seven-point run to lead 65-52 with just over three minutes to play. Hayden Graham had two free throws for a 60-52 Air Force lead and then converted a layup after a Trevor Lyons steal for a 62-52 lead. Yon’s 3-point play made it 65-52 with 3:22 to go.
The Pack didn’t score again until Cooper nailed a 3-pointer with 3:08 to play to slice the deficit to 65-55. In addition to not scoring for nearly two minutes, the Pack also committed four turnovers — two by Cooper, one each by Marqueze Coleman and Fenner.
Cooper ended up scoring 11 points in the final 3:08 and eight in the last 1:21 to make the final score respectable for the Pack. His 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Pack at least 70 points in a game for the first time since it beat Air Force at home on Jan. 3. Cooper was 4-of-12 on 3-pointers and Criswell was 3-of-4 as the Pack shot 8-of-18 from beyond the arc.
Air Force, which got 18 points each from Olesinski and Kosur, 13 from Yon and 12 from Graham, shot 54 percent (23-of-43) from the field, 6-of-12 on threes and 23-of-33 from the free throw line.
West broke the Mountain West’s single season record for offensive rebounds in conference games for one season at 105. Ryan Watkins of Boise State had 104 last year. West needs 36 rebounds over the final three games to break Watkins’ record of 225 total rebounds in Mountain West games in one season, set last year.
The Pack hosts Stan Jose State on Saturday at Lawlor Events Center at 3 p.m.