Falcons Drop Decision To No. 24 Fresno State, 68-52
Lamoni Yazzie scores 18 points for Air Force basketball.
Dec 1, 2001
By GREG BEACHAM
FRESNO, Calif. - Damon Jackson kept his all-tournament team trophy in the center pocket of his sweatshirt while holding a slice of pizza in one hand and an ice pack in the other.
Jackson, like the rest of his Fresno State teammates, found a clever solution to a difficult problem on Saturday night.
Hiram Fuller scored 14 points while filling in for Melvin Ely, and Chris Jefferies had 12 points and eight rebounds as No. 24 Fresno State beat Air Force 68-52 Saturday night to win the McCaffrey Classic.
The Bulldogs (6-1) had no trouble winning their own tournament without Ely, their star center. He voluntarily removed himself from the lineup while the NCAA investigated allegations he received an improper benefit - a charge Ely and coach Jerry Tarkanian have denied.
"It was good for our confidence to prove we can win without Melvin, but nobody on this team would want to do it again," said Jackson, who scored 10 points.
In Ely's absence, the Bulldogs eschewed much of their free-flowing perimeter shooting game and pounded the ball inside to Ely's replacements. The Bulldogs also tightened up their defense, and the result was an easy win.
"I was concerned about Air Force's style coming into the game," Tarkanian said. "When they execute their offense, they're tough to beat."
Fuller, who started both games in Ely's spot, was a solid inside presence, while Mustafa Al-Sayyad added 13 points and 11 rebounds inside. Jefferies, who had 23 points and 15 rebounds Friday night against UC Riverside, was named tournament MVP.
"It would have been better motivation if we had higher-caliber teams to play against, but it's still a good win," Jefferies said. "I'm just glad we had the patience to play that style."
Fresno State, which finished third in last week's Preseason NIT, won its fourth straight game.
Ely, wearing an inside-out white T-shirt and baggy jeans, led the cheers on the bench, particularly whenever Al-Sayyad made a nice play and was serenaded with chants of "Moose!"
Ely's absence didn't pose a problem against the undersized Falcons, but it could be a problem soon - particularly in Thursday's meeting with Gonzaga in Inglewood, Calif. The Bulldogs hope the issue will be resolved before then, athletic director Scott Johnson said.
"Hopefully, this team can learn from playing a top team like Fresno State," Air Force coach Joe Scott said. "We have to mature mentally and execute better as the season progresses."
Lamoni Yazzie scored 18 points - on six 3-pointers during a prolonged streak in the second half - as Air Force (3-3) never got close enough to threaten the Bulldogs. Joel Gerlach added 13 points and six rebounds.
After falling behind in the opening minutes, the Bulldogs scored 13 straight points during a 24-3 run.
Jefferies' night was highlighted by a breathtaking one-handed alley-oop dunk on a pass from Matt Mitchell with 9 minutes to play. Travis DeManby, who had 11 points, hit a 3-pointer a few seconds later to put Fresno State up 51-26.
Montana State beat UC Riverside 82-72 in the tournament's consolation game.