AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Air Force athletic director Hans Meuh fired coach Jeff Reynolds so he could restore some fun to the program.
The Falcons were all smiles Saturday.
"This gives us a lot of confidence," Lyons said. "We know we can play with everybody. We now know we can not only play with them, we can beat them."
The Aztecs (20-6, 6-4 Mountain West) had a chance to steal the win but Xavier Thames' off-balance 3-pointer was off the mark at the buzzer, sending short-handed San Diego State to its third straight loss.
|More on College Basketball|
|More college hoops coverage|
"It would be a great day to retire," cracked interim Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich, who might actually have secured his future with the Falcons (13-11, 3-7).
Meuh has said this is sort of a trial run for Pilipovich, who will be considered for the permanent gig after the season.
"After today, I think it's a giant step for him," Lyons said. "Coach P. is a great guy, we'd like to keep him around. This goes a long way for him."
The Falcons improved to 2-1 under Pilipovich, 1-64 against top-20 teams and 2-74 against ranked opponents. The only other time they beat a ranked team was Feb. 15, 1992, against No. 22 UTEP.
"It's something that hasn't happened in a long time at Air Force. It's something that should be celebrated," said center Taylor Broekhuis, who played with a mask to protect his nose, which was broken in practice 48 hours earlier.
"Before the game, Coach P. had the score from the game in 1992 when they beat UTEP and he said that today was the day that we make history."
"Before the game, we talked about that there's been only one other Air Force team that's beaten a ranked team. That was in `92, almost to the day. We put that up on the board before the game and said, 'Why not us?"' Pilipovich said.
The Aztecs fell two games behind conference leader New Mexico, which beat No. 11 UNLV 65-45 earlier Saturday. This is their first three-game skid since Feb. 9-16, 2008, a span of 143 games.
The Aztecs got 17 points from Chase Tapley and 13 points and 11 rebounds from Tim Shelton, but they sorely missed Jamaal Franklin, their leading scorer (16.0) and rebounder (7.4), who sprained his left ankle in the closing minutes of a loss to New Mexico on Wednesday night and sat out Saturday.
The Aztecs lost another starter when 6-foot-11 forward Garrett Green turned his right ankle eight minutes into the second half. He took a seat after scoring five points and pulling down 10 rebounds.
"It would help to have those guys," Thames said, "but we can't make excuses."
"We had all sorts of looks," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "You've got to be able to find a way to make them. You've got to make a few more than we made -- or a lot more than we made."
During one stretch in the second half, the Aztecs missed 13 straight shots and went 11½ minutes without a field goal, allowing the Falcons to hang around for a shot at the upset.
Behind Lyons, who hit two 3-pointers and make a crucial steal during a 10-0 run, the Falcons built a 56-48 lead with 2½ minutes left only to watch the Aztecs whittle away.
With Air Force clinging to a one-point lead, Todd Fletcher was fouled with 8.2 seconds left. He made the first free throws but missed the second and Shelton grabbed the rebound.
Thames wanted to drive to the basket to send the game into overtime, but "I got it kind of late," he said. "I was going to drive, but there was two seconds on the clock, so I just had to force up a shot."
It wasn't even close, just like so many other attempts by the Aztecs, who shot 29 percent in the second half.
"It's hard to win anywhere, especially hard to win on the road," Fisher said. "And it's especially hard when you shoot it as poorly as we did."
Franklin tested his ankle during warm-ups but didn't even try to talk his way into the lineup. Fisher said he had no update on Green but hoped to have him back against Wyoming on Wednesday night.