After watching his team give up 74 and 76 points in back-to-back losses, Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said he wanted to see players make “a commitment to defend.”
Sunday’s game against Norfolk State was a good start.
In a 75-52 victory in front of a sparse crowd at Clune Arena, the Falcons forced 12 turnovers and held the Spartans to 39.3 percent shooting, including 13.6 from 3-point range. Norfolk State’s 52 points are the fewest Air Force has allowed this season.
“Much improved on the defensive end,” senior forward Matt Holland said, “which is a good sign.”
Air Force, which improved to 4-2, also was much improved on the glass. The Falcons out-rebounded the Spartans, 37-25, as senior forward Andrew Henke grabbed a season-high seven boards and three other players got six.
“I thought we boxed people out really well, and we went after the ball,” Henke said.
Air Force was sloppy with the ball for the third straight game, committing 16 turnovers. But the Falcons made up for their carelessness by rediscovering their shooting touch from the perimeter.
After making just 10 of 33 3-pointers in the previous two games, the Falcons drained 11 of 20 on Sunday. Henke led the long-range assault by hitting four of seven 3-pointers, while Holland made three of five. In all, five Falcons hit 3-pointers, including sophomore guard Evan Washington, who had missed his first 10 attempts this season.
Anwar Johnson scored a game-high 17 points to lead four Falcons in double figures. Holland and Henke had 15 and 14, respectively, and Washington added 11 as Air Force made 51.1 percent of its shots from the floor.
“That’s always been one thing we pride ourselves on is trying to get everyone involved and everybody scoring,” Henke said.
Michael Deloach had 16 points to lead Norfolk State, which fell to 1-3.
The start of Sunday’s game was delayed an hour as the referees were stuck in traffic on I-25. Players found out about the delay about a half hour before the scheduled tip of 3 p.m. Air Force, which had started to warm up, left the floor and went to its locker room. There Reynolds compared the situation to the Air Force football team’s game against Houston that was moved from Houston to Dallas because of Hurricane Ike.
“We talked about, hey, we’re the home team like Houston was,” Reynolds said. “The hurricane affected them, let’s not let the snow affect us. Let’s keep our focus. And I thought from the outset of the game we had really good focus.”
Indeed, the Falcons went on a 13-3 run mid-way through the first half to expand a four-point advantage to a 25-11 lead. Air Force led by 18 at the half after limiting Norfolk State to just 20 points – the fewest it has allowed in a half this season.
“I think we made some progress and we took some growing steps tonight defensively,” Reynolds said.