LAS VEGAS – Too many turnovers cost Air Force a shot of upsetting UNLV.
The Falcons outshot the No. 21 Runnin Rebels and outscored them in the second half, but turned the ball over 21 times and failed to string together enough meaningful offense early in the game to make a serious push for victory in a 68-58 loss on Saturday.
The Falcons never led and were down by as many as 20 points in the first half, despite reserve Kyle Green's 12 first half points. He finished with 17, and Michael Lyons scored 18 points after a rough start and better second half.
"They backed us up on our heels," Air Force coach Dave Pilpovich said. "We played a lot better in the second half, but you have to give credit to how they played defensively."
Air Force (13-13, 3-9 Mountain West) shot 43.6 percent for the game, compared with UNLV shooting 40.8 percent. But UNLV (24-6, 8-4) scored 21 points off of turnovers and Air Force never led — and never got closer than 10 points in the second half.
"We have to put a whole game together, not just one half," Lyons said. "We always get down early and have to fight back."
Chace Stanback scored 21 points for UNLV and added eight rebounds. He hit his first three 3-point attempts to pass Reggie Theus and move into 23rd place on the career list for UNLV. He finished 5 of 7 from 3-point range and is average more than 15 points over his past four games.
Theus, who played for the Rebels in the 1970s, went on to play 13 seasons in the NBA, making two all-star teams and moving on to coach on the collegiate and professional levels.
The Falcons missed 11 of their first 13 shots, scoring four points in the game's first 10 minutes.
Air Force had an 8-0 run with just over 8 minutes left in the first half, but the Rebels responded with a 17-3 run to go up by 20 points.
Lyons, Air Force's leading scorer with a 15.6 average going into the game, picked up two quick fouls and was unable to play as aggressively as usual.
"I was trying to do what I always do, but the ones I put up didn't go in," Lyons said. "I wasn't trying to play conservatively at all."
Pilpovich said Lyons hurt his shoulder in the first half and was sore, but got more comfortable in the second half.
The Falcons finished the first half with 12 turnovers, which led to 14 UNLV points. Air Force shot 36 percent for the half (9 of 25).
Todd Fletcher made two free throws after a technical foul against UNLV's Brice Massamba, putting Air Force behind by 10 points with exactly 7 minutes left in the game. UNLV had a quick 7-0 spurt after that, and led by more than 10 points until the game's final minute.
Massamba drew the technical foul for confronting Chase Kammerer after a foul underneath the basket. Words were exchanged but no punches were thrown, and Massamba turned to the Air Force bench to talk some more as he made his way to UNLV's side of the court. He wasn't ejected and came back into the game after resting a few minutes.
"It hyped us up a little bit," said UNLV's Mike Moser, who finished with seven points and 11 rebounds.
Lyons scored 18 points and Kyle Green added 17 for Air Force, which finished with 21 turnovers compared with 10 assists.
UNLV also had 21 turnovers in their 16th home win of the season.
Stanback wants his teammates to take the hometown mojo on the road.
"It's extremely important for us — we haven't played well on the road," Stanback said. "It's a challenge we'll have to live up to."
UNLV hasn't won on the road since beating Air Force in Colorado on Jan. 28. The Rebels lost twice on the road a week ago to drop 10 spots in the AP Top 25, hurting their chances at a high seed going into the NCAA tournament — making it more likely that they'll have to travel further and play tougher opponents.
"It was very important to us to get our swagger back," UNLV coach Dave Rice said. "Our swagger is our defensive intensity." ___
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .