COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) The front range's most intense rivalry lived up to its standard at Clune Arena on Saturday
J.J. Avila scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and ignited a scrum in the second half that led to several technical fouls and an ejection in Colorado State's 92-87 win over rival Air Force on Saturday.
The Rams were leading 52-36 with 17:34 remaining in the first half when Avila went over Zach Kocur's back for an offensive rebound and when both players went to the floor, Avila had Kocur in a headlock. Matt Mooney rushed up and punched Avila in the back, and a pushing battle ensued.
''I went over a guy's back to try and get the ball, my hand was caught and he rolled on my legs,'' Avila said. ''A guy punched me in the back, and you saw what happened next. You can't just punch somebody.''
The game was delayed 17 minutes as referees handed out three technicals, ejected Mooney for a flagrant foul and administered the free throws, with both teams making three.
''I was just boxing J.J. out, we got tangled up and went to the ground,'' Kocur said. ''I don't know what happened after that, because I really didn't see it. It was just two teams battling for a rebound, I guess.''
Avila scored on the ensuing possession to make it 57-39.
The scuffle brought Air Force (8-7, 1-3 Mountain West) to life, and the Falcons cut the Rams' lead to 84-81 with 50.5 seconds remaining after a Hayden Graham 3-pointer. Colorado State (15-2, 2-2) responded by making eight of 10 free throws down the stretch to escape with the narrow victory.
''The atmosphere was incredible today, and the interstate rival gets your blood pumping,'' said Air Force senior guard Max Yon, who tied his career-high with 25 points. ''We need to start the game off the right way, and we don't need to be throwing any punches or anything like that. We need to come out and have the right mindset from the get-go, and it's taken us a while to figure that out.''
Gian Clavell chipped in 13 for the Rams, and Joe De Ciman had 12.
''What I wanted to happen was to just start over and play,'' Rams coach Larry Eustachy said of the skirmish. ''It's not part of the game, but nobody got hurt and it was quickly broken up. It was a hard-fought game, very competitive on the court.''
Marek Olesinski scored a season-high 20 points for Air Force, and Justin Hammonds had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
''I loved our intensity and our fight,'' Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. ''They're big and physical, and they kind of dictated the tempo in the first half. We came back to a one-possession game.
''We can't wait to get hit once, twice, three times and wait to respond. We've got to match them toe-to-toe from the beginning.''
Colorado State turned a 40-30 rebounding advantage into 12 second-chance points, and the Falcons shot just 58 percent (11 of 19) from the free-throw line.
Air Force was able to keep the game close thanks to a season-high 16 3-pointers and had 25 assists on 30 baskets.
Colorado State used a 17-5 run late in the first half to build a double-digit advantage and led 48-28 at the break. The Rams shot 61 percent from the field in the first half, while Air Force hit just 37 percent of its attempts.
Colorado State: Senior guard Daniel Bejarano did not make the trip to Colorado Springs due to strep throat. He started the Rams' first 16 games and is averaging 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
Air Force: The Falcons learned Tuesday that senior forward Kamryn Williams is done for the season after tearing his left Achilles. Williams was third on the team in scoring at 11 points per game and led the team in rebounding with an average of 6 boards per game. He underwent successful surgery on Wednesday.
Colorado State hosts Nevada on Wednesday.
Air Force travels to New Mexico on Wednesday.