Lyons, Air Force on high


It’s time for conference awards to be passed out, and Air Force senior guard Michael Lyons is certain to get some type of recognition.

Lyons might land on the All-Mountain West first team when it is announced today. When the preseason poll was unveiled in October, he recalled, the Falcons received only a lack of respect.

“We saw that we were picked last in the conference,” Lyons said. “I really didn’t understand it. I felt like we were better than that.”

Air Force proved Lyons’ point by finishing sixth in the nine-team league. He won the conference scoring title for all games, averaging 18.3 points, and ranked No. 2 in league play at 17.6 points per game.

“We definitely have that mindset that we can compete with anybody,” he said of the Falcons, who knocked off conference champion New Mexico on Saturday.

The Mountain West tournament begins Tuesday at the Thomas & Mack Center, with eighth-seeded Wyoming opening against ninth-seeded UNR.

The team picked to finish last in the preseason is now considered armed and dangerous. Lyons leads No. 6 Air Force (17-12, 8-8) against No. 3 UNLV (23-8, 10-6) in the first quarterfinal at noon Wednesday.

The Rebels slipped one spot in the standings after getting upset 61-52 by Fresno State, a 14-point road underdog, on Saturday. And now they must face the consequences by drawing a tournament matchup they should fear.

“It’s a very competitive league, and you have to perform well every night out or you’re not going to win games,” UNLV coach Dave Rice said. “People think it’s hyperbole and it isn’t, because there truly are nine teams that are capable of coming to Vegas and winning the conference tournament.”

The Rebels and Falcons split their regular-season series, but Air Force had a shot to sweep.

On Jan. 12 at the Thomas & Mack, Lyons missed a driving 8-footer with his team trailing by one in the final seconds of overtime, allowing UNLV to escape with a 76-71 victory.

Lyons, who had 19 points in that meeting, was better in the rematch. He scored 27 points as the Falcons rolled to a 24-point lead in a 71-56 rout of the Rebels.

In conference games, Air Force has averaged 66.9 points to rank fifth, one spot ahead of UNLV (65.8). Ironically, the team that boasts about running is not scoring as much as the team known for slowdown, half-court basketball.

“We’re not afraid to push the ball in transition,” Lyons said. “I think that kind of caught a lot of teams by surprise.”

Lyons is a strong candidate for first-team all-conference. He’s on a short list with Kendall Williams and Alex Kirk of New Mexico, Anthony Marshall and Anthony Bennett of UNLV, Dorian Green and Colton Iverson of Colorado State, Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks of Boise State, and Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley of San Diego State.

The 6-foot-5-inch Lyons has an outside shot of becoming the first Air Force player to reach the NBA. What he has done the past four years is help turn a last-place team into a contender.

“I felt there was a chance for me to lead the conference in scoring, but that wasn’t my main goal,” he said. “We’ve definitely turned things around here a little bit. We want to keep working to shock more people.”

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

JUCO GUARD SMITH COMMITS TO REBELS

DeVille Smith, a 6-foot sophomore from Southwest Mississippi Community College, made an oral commitment Sunday to play basketball at UNLV.

Smith, who spent his freshman year at Mississippi State, becomes the third point guard in the Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class. Kendall Smith, a 6-2 senior from Deer Valley High School in Antioch, Calif., committed Jan. 4, and 6-7 Jalen Kendrick, who is playing at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, signed in November.

UNLV’s five-player class includes Findlay Prep forward Chris Wood and former Lincoln County High shooting guard Dantley Walker, who committed in February 2011 and is finishing a Mormon mission.

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