The keys to the Mountain West Conference basement have been handed over to Air Force.
After losing tonight to lowly Colorado State, 67-56, the Falcons clearly have the cellar all to themselves.
I’ll post a link to my game story tomorrow morning, but I have to reiterate the gist of it here: This game set up perfectly for Air Force.
The Falcons were coming off an encouraging performance and facing a team they’ve owned in recent years. Not only that, but the Rams – already without 6-foot-10, 260-pound center Dan Vandervieren (back spasms) – announced before the game that three of their other contributors would not play. Guard Josh Simmons had left the team, and guards Harvey Perry and Marcus Walker (the Rams’ leading scorer who averaged 20.5 points in two games against Air Force last season) were sitting because of academic issues. In addition, starting point guard Willis Gardner spent the day throwing up.
Depleted Rams plus desperate Falcons should have added up to victory.
But Air Force couldn’t get it done.
Some of the ugly particulars from an ugly game:
-The Falcons missed 13 of 22 free throws.
-They turned the ball over 14 times.
-They missed a handful of layups.
-The allowed the league’s worst-shooting team to make 20 of 39 shots, including 9 of 18 from 3-point range.
And, as was the case against Utah, Colorado State was far from perfect. The Rams turned the ball over 15 times themselves, and Air Force had plenty of chances to seize control of the game.
The question now: If not tonight, then when?
After this loss, 0-for-conference suddenly seems like a realistic possibility. Air Force next plays at Wyoming – a better team that Colorado State with a much tougher home floor – then returns home for games against UNLV and BYU, the teams picked to finish first and second in the league this year. After that is a trip to San Diego State, where Air Force has had trouble even in its best years, and then games against three teams that already have beaten the Falcons – New Mexico, Utah and TCU – before paying host to Colorado State.
It could get really ugly the next few weeks.
-The opening few minutes of that game were about as brutal as I’ve seen this season. In the opening 4:27, the teams combined for more fouls (nine) than points (eight). At the 13-minute mark the teams had managed a combined 12 points – and a combined 12 fouls.
-Things didn’t get much better. In the first half the teams combined for more fouls (23) than field goals (19) and also turned the ball over a combined 15 times.
-Exactly how ugly was it? Here was one sequence mid-way through the first half: Air Force’s Anwar Johnson is whistled for an offensive foul on a fast break. Colorado State turns it over. Air Force’s Evan Washington misses a layup. Colorado State turns it right back over. Air Force’s Andrew Henke misses a layup.
-Three small silver linings:
One: Matt Holland nearly shot Air Force to victory. He made 7-of-11 3-pointers en route to 25 points, and his seven 3s were the most by an Air Force player in one game since Jarvis Croff hit seven in December of 2000.
Two: I thought Evan Washington showed some flashes of the potential he seemed to display a lot more last season. He made several aggressive, acrobatic drives to the hoop for scores. Now he just needs to get his shot figured out. He went 2-of-4 from the free throw line and 5-of-14 from the floor, including 0-of-2 from beyond the 3-point arc, where he clearly lacks confidence.
Three: Air Force still can win its season series with Colorado State. It just needs to win at the academy on Feb. 21 and then in the MWC Tournament play-in game in Las Vegas. Yep, that’s where these teams will be.