AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- After a lackluster first half, BYU changed defenses and stymied Air Force.
The Cougars (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) turned a five-point halftime lead into a 67-49 victory over the Falcons on Wednesday night to secure their 12th straight win.
BYU (17-1, 2-0 Mountain West Conference) held Air Force (8-8, 0-3) to 18 second-half points on 6-of-27 shooting to improve to 51-12 all-time against the school.
"It was a good road game," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "You're always nervous when you're playing a team that can really shoot the ball, and I thought we did a better job on defense in the second half. We wanted to be able to contest their shots and get the rebounds, and that got us going and then we got some baskets in transition."
"I thought we did an excellent job of protecting the hoop, as far as back cuts went," Emery said. "We came out and were just going through the motions, hoping they were going to miss shots. In the second half, we did a good job of playing defense, and that led to our transitions."
The first half was a back-and-forth battle, with six lead changes and a flurry of 3-pointers from both teams. Air Force freshman Mike Fitzgerald energized the 3,185 in attendance with a 3-pointer with eight seconds remaining in the opening half, but BYU answered with a Jonathan Tavernari 3-pointer at the buzzer to maintain the five-point halftime lead.
The Cougars switched their defense at the break, primarily playing a zone in the second half, and the change made a major impact. Air Force hit 6-of-14 shots from beyond the arc in the first half, but just 3-of-16 from 3-point range in the second half.
"We had a lot of open looks, but the ball just didn't go down," Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. "Our effort was really good, but the ball just didn't go in the basket. When you shoot 22 percent [in the second half], you're not going to beat too many teams, particularly teams in the top 20."
Reynolds praised the Cougars, whose leading scorer Jimmer Fredette was slowed with lingering effects from mononucleosis. He scored just eight points, 12.7 points less than his season average.
"In the West, other than Gonzaga, I'm not sure there's a better basketball team," Reynolds said.
The Falcons were playing without the services of four players, including three of their top five scorers. Leading scorer Grant Parker (groin strain), 15-game starter Mike McLain (concussion), Sammy Schafer (concussion) and Taylor Stewart (broken wrist) all missed the BYU game.