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Air Force guard Michael Lyons has dealt with a few health-related issues this season, including pain in both shoulders.
Lyons reinjured himself against UNLV when he got hit going up for a shot, and went to the bench in obvious pain – although he returned shortly after. Earlier this season he had a similar issue, and had to come out of the game before he could shoot his second of two free throws.
After Saturday’s game, Lyons looked like he was ready for spring football practice as he wore huge ice bags on both shoulders underneath his warmup shirt.
“Pretty much this whole season,” Lyons said. “It goes away like a week after it happens, then I feel fine. Then I get hit and it comes back.”
Lyons said he would be fine for Wednesday’s game against New Mexico. The Falcons need their leading scorer. Coach Dave Pilipovich said about Lyons, “we’re going to ride him here until the end.”
“He’s taken a lot of hits this year,” Pilipovich said. “I think he’s a little worn down, but I think everybody is at this point in the season. He’s got to fight through, rehab, recharge and play.”
The Falcons might not get forward Taylor Stewart back by the regular-season finale, which is Senior Day at Clune Arena. He rehabilitated with the trainers this weekend and was a little further away from returning than the Falcons hoped, Pilipovich said. Pilipovich said he wanted Stewart to be able to dress for Saturday’s game, whether he plays or not.
“If he wants to, I think it would be a neat thing,” Pilipovich said. “I think you need to finish your career in uniform rather than be in sweats. So hopefully we can do that.”
Since Dave Pilipovich took over as Air Force’s interim coach following the firing of Jeff Reynolds, he has made a good impression towards earning the job on a permanent basis. In response to a question about Pilipovich’s son Kyle being on Colorado State’s support staff, Rams coach Tim Miles offered unsolicited support for Pilipovich becoming the Falcons’ full-time coach.
“I hope Coach Pilipovich gets the interim tag removed,” Miles said. “I think he’s outstanding. I think he has a great way about him, and I think kids respond. Although it’s always tough to see a colleague like Jeff lose his job, Dave would be a great replacement, I think.”
Pilipovich has gone 2-3 as head coach, with an impressive win against San Diego State. The players, who have supported Pilipovich for the full-time job, have played pretty well over the second half of the conference season.
“All of coaching, and really teaching, is how you get a response,” Miles said “Can you get the student-athlete to respond the way you need him to, to be successful? What I’ve seen is they’ve responded. They’ve played harder, they’ve played better, than they were previously. I think that says a lot about Coach.”
Air Force prepared for UNLV’s pressure defense, but it’s hard to simulate in practice.
Not many teams have players as athletic as the Rebels. They turned up the heat on the Falcons in the first half, and Air Force didn’t react to it well. The Falcons scored just four points in the first 10-and-a-half minutes of the game, and 12 of their 23 first-half points came from Kyle Green’s four 3-pointers.
“We backed away a little bit rather than attacking,” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said. “We attacked a little more in the second half, we were more aggressive. But they were really good in the first half.”
Air Force did play better in the second half, scoring 35 points, although it did have nine turnovers. Air Force had 12 turnovers in the first half. The Falcons needed some time to settle in on offense, as the Rebels swarmed them early.
“We prepped for it and we were prepared, but the actual pressure early hit us a little bit and backed us on our heels,” Pilipovich said. “The second half was a different team. We were a lot more aggressive.”
Air Force could play UNLV again in the Mountain West tournament, which is also at the Thomas and Mack Center in a couple of weeks. If they have another meeting, the Falcons should be more prepared than they were to start Saturday’s game, and can take the lessons of being too passive in the first half and learn from them.
“We did in the second half what we were supposed to do in the first half,” guard Michael Lyons said.
Justin Hammonds will replace fellow freshman Kamryn Williams in the starting lineup for Air Force’s game at UNLV.
Williams has started 14 games, but has been ineffective the past few weeks as he has seemingly hit the freshman wall. Williams hasn’t scored more than four points in his last six starts and has hit just 3-of-18 shots in those games. Perhaps a reserve role will help him get back to his form earlier in the season, when he emerged as one of Air Force’s most valuable all-around contributors.
Hammonds earned his first career start with a huge game against TCU when he scored a career best 17 points. He has also been a steady defensive contributor through the season.
Also for Air Force, DeLovell Earls did not make the trip. He stayed back because he was sick. Scott Stucky made the trip in his place.
Spring football started for the Falcons on Friday, but it wasn’t their first day of practice this offseason.
The players got together to work out for about six weeks before spring practices started. Quarterback Connor Dietz said the players met shortly after the bowl game, and laid out a plan to practice together on their own.
The players got together for drills about twice a week, taking advantage of the indoor practice facility that opened last summer, in addition to strength training and conditioning.
“It’s been a productive six weeks,” Dietz said.
The Falcons will be working in many new starters, so all the practice time they can get is beneficial. There will be at least 16 starters, which made the first day of spring ball a lot different than last year, when the team had many experienced seniors returning.
“A bunch, a bunch of new faces involved,” Calhoun said after the first practice. “Yet, it’s an eager group. They’ll work well and they’ll have a good attitude.”
Running back Cody Getz (knee), who will be vying to start at tailback, was out, but he should return in about a week. Also, receiver Drew Coleman is still recovering from a shoulder injury and was out.
Sean Carley, whose 3.94 earned-run average last year was the best for an Air Force pitcher since 1983, won’t pitch this year because of an arm injury, an academy spokesman said.
Carley hurt himself in practice last week. The spokesman said he might need Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. Carley, a junior, was a second-team all-Mountain West pick last year.
Air Force’s season has been one of extremes.
An 11-4 start, then a seven-game losing streak. Two straight wins including a huge upset against San Diego State, and the Falcons followed that with a very disappointing loss to TCU in which it blew a 10-point lead at home.
“It hurts,” coach Dave Pilipovich said. “That’s a good thing, because we believe we can win, we’re getting better, we’re playing well. We just have to close a little better there. That’s experience, for all of us.”
Air Force built a lead by attacking the basket on offense, but a few changes by TCU and the Falcons’ offense stalled. Air Force went from being up 55-47 with less than eight minutes left to trailing 60-58 with two minutes left.
The Falcons went from having an outside shot at getting the fifth seed in the Mountain West tournament to having to battle Boise State to stay out of last place.
“It’s extremely disappointing to lose at home, especially in a close game we were up on,” center Taylor Broekhuis said. “There’s so many things you could pinpoint that we did wrong in the game. We need to come out with that win in the end.”
The Falcons have not won three straight games in conference since Feb. 10-17, 2007, when they beat New Mexico, Utah and Colorado State. Air Force has a chance to match that against TCU, coming off wins against Wyoming and San Diego State. That would be a nice winning streak for the program, and would put Air Force closer to the outside chance of getting the fifth seed in the conference tournament.
If Air Force wins, it will probably be because Michael Lyons has another good game. He is trying to score 20 points for the fourth straight game. No Falcons player has done that since Otis Jones over the last four games of the 1994-95 season.