By SETH LEWIS
To think, all this time BYU men’s basketball coach Steve Cleveland could see it coming.
Even when the Cougars’ bandwagon had swelled to a steaming 18-wheeler, Cleveland kept biting his tongue, unwilling to concede that his team was for real.
On Thursday night, everyone else found out why.
The makeup hiding the Cougars’ pimplish problems smeared away in a 60-55 loss to Air Force at Clune Arena.
Problems like three-point shooting — the Cougars hit three of 17 (19 percent).
Problems like rebounding — the Falcons held a 39-28 edge on the boards, including 16 offensive rebounds.
Problems like overconfidence.
All that talk about national rankings and postseason play?
It’s a little premature.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Cleveland said.
The Cougars (14-4, 3-2) dropped to third in the Mountain West Conference, behind UNLV (3-1) and ahead of New Mexico and Air Force (both 2-2).
To put this loss in perspective, consider this: The Falcons (6-10) have lost to the likes of Central Connecticut State and Wofford.
And now they beat BYU, a team that had its mind on Saturday’s showdown with New Mexico (7 p.m., KSL-TV) or the NCAA Tournament … or something.
“Why did it happen?” guard Matt Montague said. “I don’t know. We could have been overlooking them. Maybe we were thinking about New Mexico or the NCAAs.”
Whatever the case, the Cougars looked sluggish.
“They seemed to make all the hustle plays tonight, and we seemed to be on our heels,” Cleveland said.
On their heels without some of their best players. Mekeli Wesley and Terrell Lyday got into foul trouble early and scored only eight first-half points between them.
Eric Nielsen and Montague kept the Cougars close throughout.
Nielsen improved on last week’s career game against Colorado State by scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbing nine rebounds. Montague had a season-high nine points.
The Cougars’ visit to New Mexico in 1998 was a memorable one.
“We went down there my freshman year and played one of the best games of my career,” Wesley said.
One of the best? That might be an understatement.
The Cougars clobbered the then No. 16 Lobos, 83-62, snapping their 41-game home winning streak.
The Cougars did it shooting 58 percent from the field and hitting seven three-pointers.
A similar outside assault will be needed Saturday.
“We know we can shoot the ball,” guard Todd Christensen said. “We take threes when they’re open — and we hit them.”
See related story: Cougars get respect, look to down Falcons