• Parker Wins Top Honor at Men’s Basketball Banquet

    Sat, April 10, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    Air Force senior forward/center Grant Parker received the Bob Spear Award – the men’s basketball program’s top honor – at tonight’s banquet.

    The Spear Award is given to the student athlete that is outstanding in all areas of the academy – academics, athletics and military performance.

    Parker, who led the Falcons in scoring during the 2009-10 season with 12.7 points, shared the team’s Most Valuable Player honor with junior guard Evan Washington, the only Falcon to start all 31 games this season.

    Seniors Mike McLain and Avery Merriex shared the Falcon Award, given to the players that give 100 percent regardless of their situation and place on the team.

  • Air Force 59, Wyoming 40 – Rapid Reaction

    Wed, March 10, 2010 by admin with no comments

    So where was this team all season?

    The Falcons played with energy and emotion and – gasp – actually seemed to be having fun out there today.

    You could tell by the body language of the players that they were not going to lose this game. Even the guys on the bench – they were on their feet and cheering and celebrating. It was nice to see.

    An obvious reason the Falcons won was they actually hit some shots – something they did rarely in Mountain West Conference regular season play.

    But a bigger reason was defense. Air Force players were flying out to the perimeter to contest Wyoming’s 3-point shots. They were attacking passing lanes and going after errant passes. They were sliding their feet and making it tough for the Cowboys to get into the lane.

    In short, they were just playing nasty defense. The kind of defense Air Force used to play on a night-in, night-out basis.

    “We were really well prepared,” senior forward/center Grant Parker said. “We knew what they were going to do pretty much every single play. We knew their options and what they could possibly run. … I thought energy was a big thing tonight.”

    I asked Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds if his team had its best defensive performance of the season against the Cowboys.

    “I think there were stretches that we were very solid,” he said. “You know, (Wyoming freshman guard) Desmar (Jackson) is so good at getting into the lane. I thought (Air Force senior guard) Avery Merriex came off the bench and did an outstanding job of forcing him to go side to side versus to the basket. I thought Mike McLain did a really good job, as well as Grant.”

    Other Notes:
    -The Cowboys had a lot to do with their demise.

    Playing without starting point guard JayDee Luster, the Cowboys made 13 turnovers and hit just 2-of-16 3-pointers and just 8-of-19 shots from the foul line. Ouch.

    On Wyoming’s second possession of the second half, Desmar Jackson tossed a pass to Ryan Dermody on the right wing. Dermody reached for it with one hand, but it slipped off the hand and out of bounds. It just wasn’t the Cowboys’ day.

    -Speaking of Jackson, he is a talented kid. Especially as a scorer. So smooth and deceptively quick. He just has a knack for getting through traffic, contorting his body and finding a way to force in shots. He’ll be fun to watch in the coming seasons.

    -Play of the day, by far: Freshman guard Todd Fletcher’s drive to the hoop with about 3:26 to play. Wyoming was pressing, but the Falcons beat it, and Fletcher got the ball and took it across halfcourt. Instead of pulling it out and running clock, however, Fletcher saw a lane and exploited it. He went all the way to the rim and scored as he was fouled. He then hit the ensuing free throw to complete a 3-point play that finished off the Cowboys.

    “I made my diagonal cut. I just hear Evan in the background saying, ‘Go, go, attack,’” Fletcher said. “Their big guy was backing up. I had to make a layup. I went in, got hit. Coach says always keep your eyes on the rim and I did and it went in.”

    -I mentioned this in my notebook that will appear in tomorrow’s paper, but I wanted to send give props here on the blog. How ‘bout Ryan Gonzales – senior offensive tackle on the Air Force football team – winning the fan shootout during a break in the action in the first half?

    Gonzales hit a free throw, a 3-pointer and a halfcourt shot to win the competition. And he needed just two tries on the free throw and 3 and four on the halfcourt shot.

    There apparently are some ballers on the football team, including free safety Jon Davis (who played some for the prep school hoops team a few years ago), receiver Kevin Fogler, quarterback Tim Jefferson, receiver Kyle Halderman, outside linebackers Patrick Hennessey and Andre Morris Jr. and some others.

    -Quick, quick, quick turnaround for Air Force. The Falcons will have about 21 hours from the end of their game against Wyoming to tip-off of tomorrow’s game against New Mexico. Until then.

  • Sunday Morning Links

    Sun, February 28, 2010 by admin with no comments

    A dismal day at Clune Arena, a great night at Cadet Ice Arena.

    In the afternoon, UNLV dealt Air Force its worst home loss since 1993, despite a nice performance from a still-sick Tom Fow. The loss was Air Force’s 29th in its last 30 Mountain West Conference regular season games. Gazette columnist David Ramsey looked at how all that losing has affected Air Force seniors Grant Parker and Mike McLain. And here’s The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s take on the game.

    At night, however, things were happier. Air Force’s ice hockey team capped the regular season with an 8-1 beat-down of Sacred Heart. The Falcons’ victory, along with Mercyhurst’s overtime loss at Connecticut, means Air Force finished in third place in the Atlantic Hockey Association. The three-time defending AHA Tournament champs will face Army at home in a best-of-three quarterfinal series starting March 12.

  • Utah 54, Air Force 43 – Rapid Reaction

    Thu, February 25, 2010 by admin with no comments

    I posed the following question this morning on the blog:

    Was the Air Force men’s basketball team’s performance in a 59-56 loss at New Mexico on Saturday truly a step in the right direction or just a one-game anomaly?

    Looks a lot like the latter after tonight’s contest.

    Some of the problems that have plagued Air Force throughout the season were problems again tonight. For instance:

    -3-point shooting: Air Force went 2-of-17, including 0-of-6 in the second half.

    -Free throw shooting: Air Force went 5-of-12. Really?

    -Rebounding: While this is somewhat excusable, considering the Utes’ overall size, a 30-18 deficit on the boards never is good.

    -Defense: “We came out in the second half knowing what they were going to do and wasn’t able to defend it,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said.

    “I thought we didn’t make some mature decisions defensively on our closeouts. And then we didn’t rotate over and help on the drives.”

    Something else that stood out to me: This team – maybe because of all the losing – doesn’t have a killer instinct.

    The Falcons totally controlled a first half in which Utah was dreadful, making nine turnovers and appearing totally confused by Air Force’s defense. But when the teams went to halftime, they were tied at 19. For as seemingly well as the Falcons played (and as poorly as the Utes played), they had no lead to show for it.

    Other notes:
    -Air Force seemed to lack some urgency late in the game. Down about 10 with less than five minutes to play, the Falcons mostly sat back and allowed the Utes to bleed time off the clock before attempting to score.

    So I asked Reynolds after the game if he thought Air Force was too passive defensively in the closing few minutes, eschewing a pressing style.

    “We extended our defense in the half court, and we had told them who to foul in the huddle,” Reynolds said. “We didn’t want to intentionally foul, and they did a nice job of keeping the ball away from their poor free throw shooters. Maybe we should have extended our press a little bit more when it was around three minutes.”

    -Yes, the officials blew the call on Mike McLain that negated the Evan Washington dunk that would have cut Utah’s lead to two with 10:55 left. Yes, it was a momentum-swinging call. No, it doesn’t excuse Utah following it with a 13-2 run

    -Between the incredibly slow pace of the game and all the empty seats, there was a weird atmosphere at Clune tonight.

  • Air Force 70, Wyoming 63 – Rapid Reaction

    Sat, January 30, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds caught part of the Gonzaga-Santa Clara game on Thursday night when he got home from the academy.

    A young Santa Clara team, playing at home, led by 11 mid-way through the second half. Its lead was down to five, 64-59, with just less than six minutes to play. And Santa Clara would not score again. Gonzaga ended up winning, 71-64.

    Reynolds could relate.

    “I could see the whole coaching staff knowing it was slipping away because their players seemed to not know how to win,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something you do over night. I think that’s something you have to mature with.”

    Maybe the Falcons finally are learning how to win.

    Last season Air Force lost at home to TCU by three. It lost at home to Colorado State by five. It lost at home to Wyoming by three. It let potential upsets slip away at UNLV, losing 46-43, and BYU, losing 54-49.

    This season the Falcons squandered a second-half lead and lost at TCU. And last week they led UNLV at halftime but could not pull out a victory.

    Today, finally, they found a way to win.

    And while ending the ugly 22-game losing streak in Mountain West Conference regular season games was big, it might have been how they won that was so important. Air Force had a lead in the first half and lost it. And then, after scoring on five straight possessions to go up 49-42, Wyoming went on an 8-0 run to re-take the lead.

    So many times since Air Force’s last regular season Mountain West Conference victory on March 8, 2008, the Falcons had been in similar situations. And wilted. This time, thanks in large part to Evan Washington, they handled adversity and came through when it counted. Washington hit a jumper and then a 3. Freshman Michael Lyons drained a 3 with a good bounce. And then Washington hit six straight free throws (the first four being the front- and back-ends of one-and-ones).

    Yes, it was just one game. It’s not time to break open the champagne. But simply getting a victory, knowing they can find ways to win, could mean the world to this team.

    “I think it will build confidence a lot,” Washington said. “This year I think we have a tougher team than we did last year. Last year we kind of let losing become a part of our mentality. We’ve finally figured out that we have to go into each and every game playing to win. That’s what we did today.”

    Other Thoughts:
    -Reynolds gave an assist to the announced crowd of 3,414 at Clune Arena.

    It was the biggest crowd to watch the Falcons at home during conference play this season. And by far the loudest.

    “Clune got loud today,” Reynolds said. “It got loud today. I don’t know what the attendance was, but I thought about the fans and thanking them for coming out today.”

    -It’s all about the 3.

    When Air Force is hitting from the perimeter, it has a chance to win.

    Today, the Falcons tied a season high by hitting 11 from beyond the 3-point arc. Six players hit 3s, with Michael Lyons nailing 3-of-5, and Evan Washington, Mike Fitzgerald and Todd Fletcher all hitting two apiece.

    Air Force went 11-of-25 from 3-point range in the game (44.0 percent) including 7-of-11 (63.6 percent) in the second half.

    -Already without leading scorer Afam Muojeke (knee), Wyoming did not have starting center Adam Waddell (ankle), who had scored 13 points with 22 rebounds in the Cowboys’ previous game.

    But complaining to Air Force about injuries is like complaining to an Alaskan about the cold. Seven key Falcons have missed a combined 45 games this season, and starting center Sammy Schafer (post-concussion symptoms) and guard/forward Taylor Stewart (wrist) both still are out.

    -Memories from Air Force’s distant past and recent glory days came flooding back at halftime when about 15 former players were introduced to the crowd as part of the program’s homecoming weekend.

    Among those in attendance were 1959 grad Robert Blake, former great big man Randy Gricius, a 1979 grad, and Jacob Burtschi, John Frye and Tim Anderson – key cogs in the Falcons’ great run from 2003 through 2007.

    Tough to say who got the biggest cheer. Either Anderson or Burtschi.

    -Much of the game story I wrote today was about the Falcons wanting to win.

    Don’t doubt their desire.

    It’s 7:56 p.m. as I write this from courtside at Clune. I had thought I was the last person here.

    I’m not.

    Mike McLain came back on the court at about 7:30. He spent some time working on free throws and 3-pointers, some time sprinting up and down the floor and making layups, and some time working on post moves around and through some folding chairs he set up on the floor. Now he’s running sprints from sideline to sideline.

    That’s dedication.

  • UNLV 60, Air Force 50 – Rapid Reaction

    Wed, January 27, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said it best after the game:

    “We competed,” he said. “But that’s still not satisfaction.”

    Indeed, after the Falcons lost four straight by an average of 20 points, it had to be encouraging for them to take a team like UNLV down to the wire – on the Rebels’ home court no less.

    But there won’t be complete satisfaction until competing turns into winning.

    And if it’s going to happen, it’s got to happen in the next two weeks. For two intertwined reasons:

    Reason one: The Falcons finally are relatively healthy. Grant Parker, their top player, is back and now has two games under his belt. That leaves Air Force without just two key players (sophomore center Sammy Schafer and sophomore guard/forward Taylor Stewart). But getting Parker back was key. It changes everything about how Air Force plays offense and, more importantly, how opponents play defense against Air Force.

    Reason two: Look at the schedule.

    Starting Saturday, when the Falcons play a Wyoming team that is without its best player (leading scorer Afam Muojeke is out for the year with a knee injury), Air Force gets the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-place teams in the conference, all at home, in a four-game stretch. After playing Wyoming, the Falcons have a tough road trip to San Diego. But after that are winnable games at home against TCU and Colorado State.

    Air Force needs to cash in on at least one of those games. Or 0-16 becomes a real possibility for the second season in a row.

    Notes:
    -While the key stretch in the game was early in the second half when UNLV scored on eight of 10 possessions (with five 3s in the stretch), another important moment came just before halftime.

    Air Force was up 24-15 with 2:24 left in the first half. But UNLV closed the half on a 6-0 run. So instead of taking a substantial lead to halftime, the Falcons, for as well as they played, were up by one 3-pointer. And some of their momentum was gone.

    Asked if the Falcons need to close halves better, Parker said, “Yeah, we do.

    “And part of that was shot selection. … When they started getting going there, we came down and started taking quick shots, and we can’t do that if we want to beat athletic teams like this. We’ve got to slow down the game and be smart in our shot selection. I took some bad shots too, and I know some other guys did too, and we can’t do that if we’re going to finish a half strong.”

    -Freshman forward/center Taylor Broekhuis entered the game 0-for-15 on the season from 3-point range, and after he missed his first two 3s in the first half on Tuesday night, he passed up a wide open shot from behind the arc late in the half.

    Not only was the shot wide open, it was within the framework of the offense, and Air Force didn’t get a better shot after he passed on it.

    During the next timeout, Reynolds told Broekhuis that he had to shoot the ball in that situation, using a word that I can’t include in the blog to drive home the point.

    The message was received. Five minutes into the second half, Broekhuis took a pass from Todd Fletcher and, without hesitation, squared his shoulders and drained a 3 from the top of the key.

    “I took him out and didn’t start him in the second half because he wouldn’t shoot it,” Reynolds said. “And he’s a good shooter. And hopefully that will help his confidence.”

    -Air Force used its ninth different starting five tonight, and its fourth in six conference games: Fletcher and Evan Washington at the guard spots, Michael Lyons and Mike McLain at the forward spots and Broekhuis at center.

  • Saturday Morning Links

    Sat, December 19, 2009 by admin with no comments

    The Air Force men’s basketball team faces Northern Arizona tonight at Clune Arena. The Lumberjacks (love that name/mascot) are 3-6 and have lost four of five.

    The game should give some indication as to how Air Force will fare against the top half of the Mountain West Conference because the Lumberjacks already have played New Mexico and San Diego State (and been blown out by both). Yes, Air Force will be without two starters (Sammy Schafer and Grant Parker), but that could be how the Falcons start league play in early January.

    Anyhow, here’s an article on freshman forward Michael Lyons and my 3 Things to Watch in tonight’s game.

  • Friday Morning Links

    Fri, December 18, 2009 by admin with no comments

    Wrote a short hoops story for today’s edition of The Gazette about Air Force senior forward/center Mike McLain.

    McLain has put together two straight solid games after struggling early in the season and making a team-high 20 turnovers in the Falcons’ first six games. He brings energy, effort and defense to the Falcons, but he’d like to hit some more 3s. He’s 4-of-20 from distance but shoots the ball much better in practice.

    McLain shed weight during the summer (going from about 243 to about 216 now) because he expected to play more on the wing with sophomore Sammy Schafer presumably taking over the starting center spot and freshman Taylor Broekhuis backing him up there. But when both went down with injuries, McLain moved back to center. (And he’ll likely stay there for the foreseeable future, as Schafer likely will be sidelined for a while – and perhaps longer).

    Despite his weight loss, McLain didn’t lose much strength. He mostly cut down on body fat, and coach Jeff Reynolds said McLain is the Falcons’ best defensive post player.

    Switching to football, Stewart Mandel of SI.com predicted the results of each bowl game, including the Armed Forces Bowl.