AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Not even a record game by its star senior could save Air Force on Saturday.
Michael Lyons had a career-high 45 points on 17-of-25 shooting, but 24th-ranked Colorado State rode a lopsided rebounding margin and 18 second-chance points to a nail-biting 89-86 win at Clune Arena.
Lyons, the Mountain West Conference's leading scorer, was a one-man wrecking machine that helped Air Force (15-9, 6-5) take a 23-19 lead midway through the first half, but the Rams (21-4, 8-2) were able to pull away. CSU outrebounded the Falcons 39-23 and built an 82-72 lead with 1:05 remaining before Air Force clawed its way back.
The Falcons pulled within four twice in the final minute, and Lyons hit a 3-pointer for Air Force with 2 seconds left, but Colorado State inbounded the ball without incident to close the game.
"We worked our tails off . we just ran out of time," Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. "It's hard because you work so hard and come up a little short."
Lyons' 45 points were the most by a Mountain West player this season, the most ever by a Falcons player in a conference game and the most for an Air Force player since Bob Beckel had a school-record 50 against Arizona on Feb. 28, 1959.
Like most people in Clune Arena, Pilipovich was blown away by Lyons' performance.
"Has anybody ever seen an individual performance like that?" Pilipovich asked after the game. "Even his misses were exciting. Is there any way we can get him another year?"
It was also the most points any player has ever scored in Clune Arena.
"Games like this don't come very often for very many people," said Lyons, who is averaging 19.2 points. "I hit a couple shots in a row and that got me going. I kind of rode that wave the whole game. I was fortunate enough for my teammates to find me. I thank them for that."
Dorian Green scored 22 points to lead all five CSU starters in double figures and propel the Rams to their sixth consecutive win. Pierce Hornung posted a double-double with 13 points and 16 boards.
Wes Eikmeier had 19 points for the Rams despite 3-of-10 shooting from 3-point range, but he came through down the stretch with seven points in the final 2:57. Greg Smith had 16 points, with Colton Iverson adding 15.
It was a quality test for the surging Rams, who face UNLV and conference-leading New Mexico next week.
"It went down to the wire and was one of the better games we've been in in a long time," said CSU coach Larry Eustachy, whose squad has won eight of nine. "It took a special effort and a special game for us to beat them. It's a special win, and they're hard to get."
Air Force trailed 75-72 with 3:29 left, but CSU used a 7-0 run during the next two minutes to push its lead to double digits.
The Falcons fell to 3-79 all-time against ranked teams after defeating 22nd-ranked San Diego State 70-67 on Dec. 2. Air Force has lost three of four and dropped its first conference game at home (5-1). Its 86 points were the most in a losing effort since a 114-87 loss to Texas Christian on Jan. 21, 2000.
Todd Fletcher added 11 for the Falcons, who were greatly improved after falling to CSU 79-40 in Fort Collins on Jan. 16.
"A month ago, we were 39 points on the opposite side of this at their place," Pilipovich said. "I can't fault the effort. They're down right now, but we'll bounce them back up."
Both teams shot better than 53 percent from the field, and the Rams scored 26 points from the free throw line while limiting Air Force to just 12 attempts from the stripe.
Air Force led 23-19 midway through the first half, but the Rams used their size to build a 21-5 rebounding advantage in the first 20 minutes and took the lead for good with a Smith free throw with 4:59 remaining. CSU led 48-40 at the half.