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Nwaelele's jumper extends Air Force's home streak

Jan 21, 2007 - 2:23 AM COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (Ticker) -- Senior star Dan Nwaelele awoke from his slumber just in time to provide Air Force the best start in school history.

Quiet for most of the game, Nwaelele hit a go-ahead fallaway jumper and two free throws in the final 45 seconds to provide No. 11 Air Force a 56-51 victory over San Diego State.

Jacob Burtschi had 23 points and nine rebounds for Air Force, which bounced back from Wednesday's 85-79 loss to Utah to win its 26th straight home contest - third-longest active streak in the nation. Air Force also is 18-2 for the first time ever.

The Falcons (18-2, 5-1 MVC), who entered ranked third in scoring defense (56.3 points), held the Aztecs to under 40 percent (21-of-53) shooting, including 3-of-20 from the 3-point line.

"I thought we got it back today with a typical Air Force win where we just dug down deep, defensively," Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik said. "We stayed even on the boards with them. For the most part our defense was solid."

Air Force controlled the contest throughout, but a pair of baskets by Jerome Habel in between a lefthanded drive by Mohamed Abukar gave San Diego State a 51-50 lead with 65 seconds left.

Nwaelele, the conference's player of the year last season, then took his defender off the dribble, stepped back and hit a fallaway jumper from the left wing with 45 ticks left. He then rebounded a miss by Habel on the other end, got fouled and sank two free throws with 17 second remaining.

San Diego State guard Brandon Heath then air-balled a 3-pointer from the left wing with seven seconds left and Burtschi made two free throws to seal it.

"We played well enough to win, but they just wouldn't let us," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "We didn't answer on that final shot. We put ourselves in a position to win with Air Force, that's all you can do. Air Force made the shot, but we didn't answer."

"I think that the turning point was when the final horn sounded," Bzdelik said. "This is the kind of basketball games that we needed to play against San Diego State."

Nwaelele finished with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting and three rebounds. He entered averaging 15.4 points on 59 percent shooting. Burtschi shot 5-of-10 from the arc.

Heath and Habel scored 15 points apiece for San Diego State (13-6, 2-3).

Heath, who scored his 1,900th career point in Thursday's loss to New Mexico, brought the Aztecs back after intermission. He shot just 1-of-7 in the first half and did not draw iron on his first shot of the final 20 minutes.

Heath hit a runner and a pair of 3-pointers to cut a six-point halftime deficit to 36-35 with 10 1/2 minutes left. His 3-pointer from the left wing with 5:51 left gave New Mexico its first lead of the game at 43-42. He finished 5-of-17 from the floor.

But the Falcons responded immediately with 3-pointers by Matt McGraw and Tim Anderson - his first points of the game - to restore a five-point edge.