Three nights after beating West Coast Conference kingpin Gonzaga, the Gaels ran their win streak to nine games equal to their longest in 46 years. But it wasn't easy.
The Gaels (15-4) scored seven points before Air Force attempted a shot and led by 13 at halftime. But the Falcons' frustrating Princeton-style approach gradually gnawed at St. Mary's, which survived two last-second shots to pocket a 59-58 non-conference victory.
Impatient offensively in the second half, the Gaels played into the Falcons' hands, allowing them to erase a 40-27 halftime gap. Air Force never got even, twice missing would-be winning shots in the final five seconds.
After Jason Walberg missed two free throws with 24.5 seconds left, Air Force ran the clock down before Matt McGraw drove into the lane for a shot. The ball came off the rim into the middle of the key, where Nick Welch grabbed it among a crowd and threw up an airball 10-footer while falling away.
"It was the kind of game I thought it would be," Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. "That team's hard to separate against. I'm pleased we got out with a win ... we could have made it a little easier."
They could have had they shot better than 9-for-18 from the foul line in the second half, or 5-for-14 from the field.
Bennett said perhaps only four teams in the country play this style of ball, and the Gaels had