Air Force continues on a roll winning their last out of conference match in their MWC conference bye week over the University of New Orleans then went on the away to record their first first MWC road win in five years beating Wyoming in Laramie.
Air Forced matched up with New Orleans last Wednesday in a non-conference matchup and came away witha 90-48 win over the Privateers.
With all Air Force starters playing less than 22 minutes, with the exception of Mike Fitzgerald with 27 minutes, the scheduling of an out of conference game during their MWC bye weeks worked as planned. The Falcons routed the Privateers of New Orleans while keeping the rust off for our starters while giving them good rest for most of the game while letting the bench get playing time and points.
The early part of the game showed the Falcons trying and just playing too hard to put themselves in the lead, finding themselves making too many mistakes and simply missing shots. But after a deep breath or two (and credit to the UNO defense that worked hard until fatigue set in), the Falcons got back to running the offense, playing stingy defense and taking the lead.
Our senior starter trio led the way in reduced minutes with Mike Fitzgerald (16pts with FG/3pt/FT, 4-5/3-5/5-5/27mins), Todd Fletcher (14pts/5-8/3-5/1-2/21min) and Mike Lyons (14pts/7-11/18min). Excellent effort and minutes but well deserved rest on the bench which should help them in this next stretch in MWC play. The young guns came in and did their job. It was highlighted at the end of the half with a thundering rebound put back dunk by Kam Williams at the buzzer. A good game for Kam with 10pts on 5-7 shooting. Guard play of the future continued to be shown in Tre' Coggins with 9pts on 3-3/2-2/1-2 and a career high 8 assists. Justin Hammonds solid as he gets better each week with 9points. Everyone basically scored off the bench plus good rebounding.
Good 'must' win for Air Force who then traveled up I-25 to Laramie, Wyoming to face the Cowboys.
Air Force came into the game with Wyoming knowing that the Cowboys were tough on defense and played the clock on offense using strength inside to score. Air Force had a plan to attack when they had the ball and to play aggressive defense, guarding the lane and forcing Wyoming to win by shooting the long ball.
Wyoming's offense has been playing off their defense. Play tough defense, especially at home to hold the opponent down while keeping the game at a controlled pace to run clock and take/keep the lead. Sounds like the Princeton offense that Air Force still runs but even more so to true Princeton ala the Falcons circa 2003-2004 en route to the NCAAs. But to date this season, the Cowboys might not have faced as discipline an offense using similar principles as they did versus the Falcons. While the Falcons did not shoot exceptional from the arc, they shot well enough that it had to be respected allowing Air Force to find seams open for back door cuts and layups and either scoring or getting fouled and going to the line. While Wyoming successfully defends very well against one on one players driving (such as SDSU players), the patient offense of Air Force seemed to break them down more. One key in the matchup preview was for Air Force to go inside out aggressively and they did with success. Something not seen in many Air Force games is the Falcons having more second chance points than their opponents.
While the Falcons worked hard on the offensive end, they may have worked harder on the defensive end. A combination of matchup zone, zone and three-quarter court press caused Wyoming to work deep into the clock on every possession.....
***An aside here: Kudos to Wyoming's Leonard Washington (19 pts on 8-12 FG plus 9 rebounds in 37mins) and Derrious Gilmore (15pts with 3 3pt shots). Leonard was a monster inside and moves so well for a big man. Too many times in this game did I see him slip not one but two defenders. He should definitely be in consideration for the All-MWC team.
But even with the effort of these two Cowboys, the Falcon defense executed their plan. First, at different times throughout the game they made it difficult for Wyoming to bring the ball down the court either stealing in the backcourt or trapping across the half line. While Wyoming was working their half court offense looking for a good shot opportunity, the Falcons made them work harder and longer during many possessions resulting in shots either made near the buzzer or taking less than desired perimeter shots. Post game comments by Wyoming's Coach Shyatt said that he needed to find ways for his team to score earlier in the clock, something the Falcons worked hard not to allow.
Individual player comments must begin with Taylor Broekhuis who played an exception game. Air Force matches up better physically with Wyoming, a similar team physically as compared with a similar team in Boise State with no bigs with a size and weight advantage. Taylor took advantage of this and played maybe his most physical game with 16pt, 3-4 3pt, 3 FT and 9 rebounds combined with excellent blockouts under the glass. Behind him it was a team effort for the win. In another game where Mike Lyons was defended tightly, he still scored 11ps on 4-9 FG, 3-4 FT, 3 Rebs and 3 steals in only 31 minutes. DeLovell Earls matched his career high with 10pt on 4-5, 4reb and 3 assists. Contributions were not just in scoring as Todd Fletcher had 6pts along with 6reb and 2 assist and Mike Fitzgerald 6pts along with 4reb. AF's six players off the bench only contributed 8 points but did give 38 excellent minutes in relief compared to Wyoming's 24 bench minutes, 20 by one player. While not apparent on the court, I think the fresh legs were definitely an asset to Air Force.
All in all a very good game for the Falcons. They have made a move to climb up the ladder, but it does not get any easier in the long run. Air Force will face Fresno State at home in the first conference meeting between the Falcons and the Bulldogs who travel to Clune Arena for the first time after coming off a loss at CSU. Then SDSU come to the Academy followed by on the road to the Pit and New Mexico.