If Air Force can beat San Diego State on Saturday at Clune Arena – a difficult task, especially considering the Aztecs will have had a week off to prepare – the Falcons will finish 8-8 in league play. And if UNLV beats Utah, Air Force will claim fifth place in the Mountain West. That would be pretty impressive for a team with just one starter back and hardly any others with any significant experience.
And consider this, strange as it may seem: An 8-8 league record would be only a two-game drop off from last season, when Air Force won a school-record 26 games overall and had arguably its best team in history.
So here’s what was to like against TCU: It starts with Andrew Henke. The 6-foot-6 junior guard/forward poured in a career-high 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including 6-of-8 shooting from 3-point range.
Henke has expanded his game, matured and blossomed in the second half of conference play. Consider:
In the first half of conference play, Henke averaged 7.4 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting, including 33.3 percent from 3-point range. In the seven games since, he’s averaged 14.9 points on 49.3 percent shooting, including 54.5 from 3-point range.
He’s become the Falcons’ top offensive threat, as Tim Anderson’s production has dropped off in the second half of league play. Perhaps feeling fatigued from his hefty minutes, Anderson has averaged just 9.2 points the past seven games on 31.3 percent shooting (22.2 from 3-point range). He averaged 17.0 points on 47.2 percent shooting (46.3 from 3-point range) in the first half of conference play.
The Falcons’ defense also gets some credit for helping force TCU into an absolutely atrocious shooting performance. Air Force carried out its plan to perfection, denying Kevin Langford (the Horned Frogs’ leading scorer) touches inside and keeping Brent Hackett from driving – though allowing Hackett to fire bricks from 3-point range.
So what wasn’t to like? Too many first-half turnovers. Missing 11 of 21 free throws. And, most troublesome, the Falcons’ apparent lack of a killer instinct.
Air Force went up 13-0 as the Horned Frogs clanked their first eight shots from the floor.
And that’s when an elite team, playing on its home court, buries its opponent. It stretches its lead to a demoralizing 20 and puts the game away by halftime.
But the Falcons, once ahead, seemed to put it on cruise control. Sloppy play ensued, and before you knew it, they’d let TCU back in the game. To Air Force’s credit, it protected its double-digit lead in the second half. The Horned Frogs had something to do with that, however, as they could not make a shot.
-A victory over San Diego State on Saturday not only would give the Falcons a .500 record in league play and – depending on what happens with the Utah-UNLV game – a potential fifth-place finish. It also would give the Falcons just their second victory over one of the league’s top-tier teams.
So far, Air Force’s home victory over UNLV stands as its most impressive victory in league play – and overall, for that matter. The Falcons’ other six conference triumphs came over the Mountain West’s bottom-feeders – two each over winless CSU, Wyoming and TCU.
-Would’ve liked to have seen Phillip Brown play Wednesday night, at least for 3-4 minutes, after how well he played against BYU. I know Keith Maren has had a great season and he played well Wednesday and you want to go with your experienced senior. But I thought Brown could have benefited from a second straight game with some playing time.
-We didn’t fit this in the paper: Junior guard Anwar Johnson handed out a career-high six assists.