• New Mexico 75, Air Force 69 – Rapid Reaction

    Thu, March 11, 2010 by admin with 4 comments

    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.

    Other Notes:
    -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.

  • Tuesday Morning Links

    Wed, March 3, 2010 by admin with 2 comments

    Air Force clinched a second consecutive last-place finish in the Mountain West Conference last night by losing to the only team it had a chance to catch – Wyoming.

    The Falcons fell, 58-49. Junior Tom Fow scored 17 points, showing off a more diverse offensive game. But coach Jeff Reynolds said after the game that Fow still has much work to do on his defense.

    “Gave up too many easy shots,” Reynolds said.

    Here’s The Casper Star-Tribune’s game story and Robert Gagliardi’s column for The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. Both mention how the MWC’s worst 3-point shooting and worst defensive squad hit nine 3s and played good defense against the Falcons.

    In other news, the MWC reprimanded New Mexico coach Steve Alford for calling BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari a seven-letter word that I can’t write here (watch a clip of it here, but be warned that the word appears in the clip). Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney writes that while Alford “is a lot of attitude, some productive, some annoying,” he also has done a great job with the Lobos this season. I enjoyed the piece.

  • Wyoming 58, Air Force 49 – Rapid Reaction

    Wed, March 3, 2010 by admin with 1 comment

    When Grant Parker was a freshman, Air Force won 26 games and reached the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament. The Falcons, for a time, were ranked No. 11 in the coaches’ Top 25.

    Now, just three years later, Air Force will finish in the Mountain West Conference cellar for the second season in a row.

    Could anyone have imagined such a drastic fall from grace? Parker certainly couldn’t have.

    “No,” he said. “You don’t really picture that happening. But at the same time, stuff happens and you’ve just got to try to move on and look to the (Mountain West Conference) tournament, I guess. It’s really tough because we’ve played really well at times this season, but collectively, overall, we haven’t really played as well as we would have liked.”

    Air Force ended last season with a smidge of a positive feeling, staying close in games at UNLV and BYU and then beating Colorado State in the MWC Tournament play-in game before finishing the season with a noble loss to the Cougars in the tournament quarterfinals.

    The Falcons will need a major turnaround in Saturday’s regular season finale and the MWC Tournament to take any positive feeling into this offseason. Because right now, the Falcons don’t seem to be getting any better.

    Other Notes:
    -Air Force pulled to within one point of Wyoming – 48-47 – after Tom Fow hit a jumper and then Evan Washington hit a 3-pointer with 2:40 to play.

    But things unraveled after that.

    So I asked Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds after the game how disappointed he was that his team didn’t execute so well on the possessions after Washington’s 3.

    “Well, what do you call, ‘not executing?’” he asked.

    Here were Air Force’s three possessions after Washington’s 3-pointer: Forced, air-balled 3-pointer as the shot clock was about to expire. Turnover. Turnover. I’d call that not executing.

    “We missed two layups, too,” Reynolds said.

    I told him I was talking about the three possessions following Washington’s 3.

    “Well, we wouldn’t have been in that situation if we’d made those shots prior,” Reynolds said. “And that’s frustrating.”

    -Air Force out-rebounded the Cowboys, 28-25. It was the first time in conference play the Falcons out-rebounded an opponent.

    -Freshman Michael Lyons continues to struggle from 3-point range. He missed all four of his attempts from beyond the 3-point arc and is now 1-for-16 from 3 in his last four games. Lyons also had five turnovers in 36 minutes tonight.

    -Shawn Hempsey started six games last season and played in 12 others. But he has barely sniffed the floor lately. He logged his sixth DNP-Coach’s Decision in MWC play on Tuesday night.

  • Sunday Morning Links

    Sun, February 21, 2010 by admin with no comments

    Air Force played its best game of the 2009-10 season on Saturday afternoon. And lost, 59-56, to No. 12 New Mexico.

    Sophomore guard/forward Taylor Stewart saw his first action, while junior forward Tom Fow didn’t play too much.

    Switching to ice hockey, Air Force fell, 3-0, to RIT Saturday night. The Falcons are winless in their last six games.

  • Saturday Morning Links

    Sat, February 13, 2010 by admin with no comments

    The Air Force men’s basketball team plays at No. 17 BYU this afternoon. The Falcons certainly will need to play better offensively than they have the last three games to have a chance at a major upset.

    Speaking of offense, I wrote about Air Force’s best shooter, junior forward Tom Fow, in today’s edition of The Gazette. Fow is trying to diversify his offensive game. Also, here are my 3 Things to Watch in this afternoon’s contest. And Gazette columnist David Ramsey has one more thing to say about Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds and the Princeton Offense (or lack thereof) on his blog: http://daveramseysez.freedomblogging.com/.

    And for all things BYU, check out The Provo Daily Herald’s Cougar Blue section.

    REMINDER: I’ll be doing a live, on-line chat during the game. Go to Gazette.com around tipoff, and there will be simple instructions about how to join in the chat.

  • 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.

  • Wednesday Morning Links

    Wed, December 2, 2009 by admin with no comments

    I wrote a football notebook for today’s edition of The Gazette that contains more information on-line. It deals with Air Force’s likely bowl destination, the All-Mountain West Conference teams and MWC commissioner Craig Thompson’s thoughts on the league’s progress this season.

    Also, the Daily Press in Virginia has an update on the UVA coaching search.

    Finally, the Air Force men’s basketball team faces North Carolina Central tonight. I wrote about junior forward Tom Fow for today’s paper and here are my 3 Things to Watch in the game. Also, columnist David Ramsey wrote about senior forward Grant Parker.

  • Air Force 68, Charleston Southern 58 – Rapid Reaction

    Sun, November 29, 2009 by admin with 2 comments

    Coming on the heels of last weekend’s 24-point home loss to Northern Colorado, the Air Force men’s basketball team’s start tonight against Charleston Southern was anything but confidence-inspiring.

    After scoring the first two times they had the ball, the Falcons had twice as many turnovers (four) as baskets (two) on their next 11 possessions.

    It looked as if an ugly 10-game losing streak to Division I opponents at Clune Arena – where Air Force not too long ago had a fearsome home-court advantage – would continue.

    But the Falcons, playing without their top two centers, steadied themselves, began to handle the Buccaneers’ pressure and climbed back into the game. Down eight mid-way through the first half, Air Force forged a 2-point advantage at the break. Then, early in the second half, the Falcons went on a 12-0 run to take control of the game.

    Now, beating Charleston Southern isn’t cause for a parade – in any season. But it was important for the Falcons to put last weekend’s dismal loss – in which Grant Parker said the Falcons “were just terrible” – behind them.

    “That’s not the way we know we can play,” Parker said. “We played better tonight. And I’m thankful just for what we did tonight, but I think we can play even better.”

    -Great bounce-back game for Parker. After missing all 10 of his shots from the floor against Northern Colorado (including seven 3s), Parker made 7-of-13 shots from the floor tonight.

    “I just kept jacking up 3s last game,” Parker said. “And one of the things I need to improve on as a player is, if that’s not working, what do you do next, you’ve got to go down low. I didn’t do that against Northern Colorado, I tried to force it. And tonight, I kind of took what the defense gave me.”

    -Finally healthy, junior Tom Fow gives the Falcons a sharpshooter from 3-point range – something they desperately need.

    Fow scored 13 points tonight on 4-of-8 shooting from the floor (including 3-of-6 from 3-point range). He also did “the best job he’s done in our match-up zone,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said.

    More on Fow this coming week in The Gazette.