Too bad there aren’t a few more weeks left in the season.
Because it would be interesting to see if Air Force could keep performing like it did the last two days, when it played arguably its two best games of the 2009-10 campaign.
This afternoon, they pushed the No. 8 team in the country throughout a physical, intense, emotional and often contentious game. This Falcons team was not the same team that we all watched most of the 2009-10 season.
“I think towards the end of the season we started to click,” junior forward Tom Fow said. “We started to get things, have that passion, have that personal pride, you know, that we weren’t going to lay down for anybody.”
Not surprisingly, the Falcons shot the ball extremely well this afternoon. In part because they attacked the rim and got some back-door layins, they went 27-of-50 from the field.
Don’t want to say shooting is everything with this team, but consider this: Air Force’s four best shooting performances against conference foes are below. Those four coincide with Air Force’s only two victories against league foes this season and their two other top performances this season (both against New Mexico).
Date – Opponent – Percentage
Today – New Mexico – 54.0
2/20 – New Mexico – 51.2
Wed. – Wyoming – 47.9
1/30 – Wyoming – 45.1
That says a lot.
But perhaps even more important than the shooting the last two days was the passion, emotion and energy with which the Falcons played. As I wrote yesterday, even the bench was into it.
Again, I wonder where that energy was the rest of the season. And I wish the Falcons had a few more weeks to play with it.
-I Tweeted this before the game: That was like a road game for Air Force. A ton of Lobo fans in the crowd at the Thomas & Mack.
“New Mexico, they brought The Pit with them to the conference tournament,” Fow said.
Air Force got a lift from the fans of other teams who were in attendance (they clearly wanted to see the upset). But the Lobos had the majority of the voices at Thomas & Mack.
-I’ve wondered about some of Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds’ substitution patterns throughout the season. But I’ve got to say that he did an excellent job with juggling the lineup on Thursday. With a team that had just finished a game 21 hours earlier, Reynolds got good rest for his key players and found good combinations with his reserves. That was a key reason his team was in the game.
-New Mexico junior guard Darington Hobson is a tremendous talent, and I voted for him as the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year. He was, without question, the best player in the league this year. And I think his versatile game and long, athletic body could make him a very good pro.
So he’s too good a player for that preening, trash-talking, chest-pounding, punkish act he often displays during games.
(Quick side note: Tomorrow is my birthday, and I already feel like old man. When I write sentences like the one before the parentheses, I feel like even more of an old grouch. Oh well.)
Anyhow, if I was a New Mexico fan, I’d love his emotion. But I’d be concerned about how A) he got a technical foul for pounding his chest and celebrating after a bucket in the second half; B) how he seemed to get into it with Reynolds heading into a timeout (Reynolds and Hobson talked after the game and shared a hug); and C) how he got in the face of teammate Chad Adams late in the first half. Hobson came up with a steal and drove the court. He eventually got to the hoop and was called for a charge. He then yelled at Adams as if the foul was all Adams’ fault for not filling a lane.
To Hobson’s credit, he gave a thoughtful response when he was asked if he can grow his passion “without encountering the negative side of that.” And he took responsibility for the tech.
“Yeah, that’s one of the things I’ve been working on, trying to work on down the stretch,” Hobson said. “You know, it cost us two points during the game. I apologize for that. But you know, that’s just something I still have to work on. I’m an emotional player, and I show a lot of emotion when I play.”
-One last thing:
I wrote for tomorrow’s paper about the outstanding play of Air Force freshmen Michael Lyons and Todd Fletcher. Those two – and the rest of the freshmen on Air Force’s team – won’t be able to kick their feet up and get some rest now that the season’s over.
Air Force was set to jump on a plane tonight and head back to the academy so the players could participate in “Recognition,” which essentially is a rite of passage for the freshmen.
It starts today and includes physical training, room and uniform inspections, quizzes about academy and military heritage – you name it. Think rushing a fraternity without the booze and embarrassing hazing techniques. (“It’d probably be enough to scare you and your friends,” Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, the academy’s superintendent, told me after today’s game).
It runs through Saturday night when the freshmen are awarded the Prop and Wings insignia. That signifies the fourth classmen are officially part of the Cadet Wing.
Heading back to the academy after a heartbreaking loss would be tough enough. Having to join in this difficult process probably makes it much tougher.
Best of luck to the frosh.