Prior to today’s game against Colorado State, Air Force had been in exactly one game (at home against TCU) that went down to the wire.
I’ve got to believe that’s part of the reason why the Falcons appeared woefully unprepared to handle the pressure-filled moments in the final few minutes of what turned out to be a 71-66 loss. The Falcons committed three turnovers and missed the front ends of a pair of one-and-one opportunities in the final six minutes.
Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said he didn’t think the lack close games the Falcons have been in this season had a bearing on the game’s final stretch. And senior guard/forward Andrew Henke said players have been in plenty of tight situations since they’ve been playing basketball for years and years.
But I think the lack of experience this season in close games did have an effect. With about eight minutes left, I told Denver Post reporter Irv Moss that I thought the Falcons were starting to look tight. That they were passing up open shots and playing tentative.
Makes sense. Eleven of the Falcons’ first 12 MWC games were decided by double-digit margins, so Air Force hasn’t had much experience making plays in crunch time. Sophomore guard Evan Washington said the team mimics those situations in practice. But it’s just not the same.
It was as if the players suddenly realized, “We can win this thing,” nerves kicked into overdrive and you got what you got.
There is, of course, a benefit to this. Now Air Force has another experience to draw from if another game goes down to the wire. Next Saturday against Wyoming or on March 11 in the play-in game (likely against CSU) that experience could pay dividends.
-What a first half by Andrew Henke. He went 6-of-7 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, and made all seven of his free throws. It’s great fun to watch someone so in the zone.
CSU did a nice job on Henke in the second half, face-guarding him and making sure he couldn’t get the ball. Still, I would have liked to have seen him get the ball more. On a hand-off or something, just so he could have it in his hands. Especially for that last shot.
-Reynolds on that last shot: “It was a designed play. We didn’t want to call a timeout, and we had to because we had guys in the wrong spot. And so we ended up having to call a timeout to set it, and I think that gave them a chance to set their defense. We still got an open 3 by a guy who’s a really good shooter (Matt Holland), he’s just making shots right now.
-Decent bounce-back games by a couple of freshmen.
Center Sammy Schafer had scored just six points in the Falcons’ previous four games (including none in the last two), but he had eight points against CSU on 4-of-4 shooting before getting into foul trouble. And forward Taylor Stewart, who had gone five games without scoring, had five points early, including a 3-pointer.
Thought Schafer showed pretty good athleticism (for his size) with a couple drives in the second half. Schafer would dribble through traffic into the lane (albeit slowly), jump, hang and then shoot on the way down.
-Air Force’s MWC season looks a lot like CSU’s a year ago. Last season the Rams played Air Force tough in Fort Collins before losing by two.
Asked what similarities he sees between the 2008-09 Falcons and his 2007-08 Rams, CSU coach Tim Miles said, “We both need to go out and recruit more talent. He’s got good players, not enough of them. We had some good players, not enough of them. And we’re all working to move ourselves into the upper division of the league.”
Miles also said about Air Force: “They play with heart and desire and passion. They execute their stuff. A few breaks here or there the other way and this game goes the other way.”
-Thought Evan Washington had a nice game, hitting the halfcourt 3 just before halftime and the huge 3 from the corner with just less than a minute to play. He also played pretty good defense (along with Anwar Johnson) in the second half against Marcus Walker, who is great fun to watch. He is lightning quick and not shy at all about tossing up shots.
-Before anyone complains about the officiating (too late, right?), consider this: Colorado State players picked up 20 fouls. Air Force players picked up 14.
And the call that fans were most upset about (the charge/block call that went against Anwar Johnson) was apparently correct, according to folks at courtside who saw the replay. I haven’t seen it yet.
-By far the best rendition of the National Anthem that I’ve heard this season or probably ever at Air Force. That kid had some pipes.
-And finally, when asked if his team can find a way to win, Reynolds answered with an emphatic, “Yes. Yes.” Back tomorrow with links.