Air Force opens with Win over Western State

Air Force opener against Western State proved to be quite the competitive game and gave the Falcons a quick look at the future. Let's review the game from the perspective of a couple of our most knowledgeable Falcon fans.


First, the Stalagian would like to say how nice it was to see all of the Friends at the game.  It was good being in town again.  Special hello to Jake Schaller--we chatted pre-game.

Well, Western State was much better than last year and was a good first opponent.  For all of those doom-and-gloomers, remember that we lost our first game last year to a bad team from Canada that had 3-point shooters.  This team had some serious 3-pointers that could hit from the old Minuteman Missile if they wanted to.

Western State played a tough match-up zone against us much of the game and actually played tougher defense than we did--something that should NOT happen.  We didn't look good "closing out" players as they received passers, eliminating their chances to drive or pass.  We also didn't handle their often erratic style, but they continually ripped us on drive and dish plays to open 3-point shooters.  Give them a lot of credit--they hustled all game long and recovered from a 20-0 AFA run with a 22-9 run of their own spanning the halftime break.  they didn't have a big man, or we might've been in real trouble.

Andrew Henke played a good game--especially since he was TO-free.  He disappeared in the first half, though, after his second foul, and didn't do much until the last 8 minutes.  Still a solid effort that showed a good deal of leadership.

My player of the game is Evan Washington for his presence on the court.  Sure, he missed couple of passes, but his blocks were awesome and he led the team--as a guard--with 8 RBs.  The young man got some serious air tonight.  Both he and Anwar have muscled up significantly, and it showed in Evan's play in particular.

Matt Holland had some very good stretches, but needed to take a few more shots.  Driving was tough against WSU, though, and they were getting roughed up quite a bit.  Matt missed some lay-ups, but then the whole team did.  I'll bet we missed 10 from within 3 feet of the rim.

Mike Mclain played solid ball and was a nice surprise.  He moved well, and shot a three.  Good to have another big man in there mixing it up.

Anwar Johnson was his erratic self again, missing some drives to the hoop, but playing excellent defense before fouling out.  He had a pull-up jumper that should be his staple shot.  I'd like to see more of that.

Avery Merriex has much improved.  He played calmly and with confidence.  His driving shot with about 2 minutes to go to gave Air Force a 4 point lead was probably the biggest basket of the game.

Taylor Stewart, though, had to be the big surprise on the team.  I REALLY liked watching this doolie play.  He's very smooth, moves well without the ball, and played like a veteran.  To go double-digits in your first game is huge.  I think he could be the biggest story on this team in 08-09 and look for him to get lots of playing time.

Grant Parker needs to get a little meaner, but his played well as a sub for Holland and others.

Overall, our D needs improvement, and we needed to do our own drive-and-dish.  Maybe coach was directing them to go inside more--a good thing--but we seemed to forget about the jump shots too often.  Later in the game, our cutting improved and that's probably why we won--finally hitting the lay-ups.

Out FT shooting was NOT good.  that will need to improve greatly.  I would also have liked to see a few others come off the bench.  Hopefully, that will happen with some of the other OOC games.

As JA pointed out on the radio, this will be a good "film game," a learning experience against a tough opponent that played well.  How much we learn and how quickly will define this team's success.

Thanks also to the Cadets of Section 8 for hosting me and loaning me a T-shirt, too.  It was great to be screaming with the crazies in the Chamber again!



Edit to Stalag's above....Matt Holland didn't miss a shot...he was 4-4!

Postgame summary is, like, wow!  A lot of positives out there following at tough 40 minutes of basketball for our Falcons!.  Our Falcons beat Western State 70-64.  Starting five was Washington and Johnson up top, Mike Mclain in the middle and Henke and Holland on the outside. 

Got to start with kudos to the fans.  Had 3200 there (a half full Clune Arena) and a good showing from the cadets and Section 8.  I remember season OOC openers with 250 in the stands.  Good noise, good energy…thanks to all who came!

A young team that showed a lot during an interesting game.  Some on the board are already talking about ‘oh, oh….long season'.  I see it in a different light.  As coach said in his post game comments, ‘a work in progress'.  AF played a DII Western State team that was there to play.  Final stats are not all out…the ESPN stats don't show 3 pointers……but let me tell you, Western State shot them.   They were something from outside.  Their % may not be high, but I'm guess that 4 out of every 5 shots in the first 30 mins were from the 3 pt range.  I saw shots made from the arc, from 1 foot outside the arc, from 2 feet outside the arc, and at least 3 shots made 3 feet outside the arc…..and that's with someone guarding them (although not ‘in his face'…I mean, who makes those shots?).  And they always made those shots when they needed it.  Kudos to WSt!

We worked hard throughout the game.  Our 3pt % was something like 8 -15 or 53%.  Not bad.  We were 25 – 51 for 49% FG….we had a ‘good' % FT's in the first half but struggled late in the game and ended up 12-21 or 51%.  That hurt.  The two biggest stats were that our ‘big's were 1-9 today and WSt had 12 offensive rebounds. 

I thought the offense ran well at times and you are still see the ‘AF offense' / Princeton principles….but it was not run as aggressive as I think coach would have liked.  I think that is still the inexperience.  We had 3 or 4 nice back doors.  We had several missed opportunities, and those were mainly by the bigs and by Evan…more on that below.  The good news is, only 7 turnovers for the game!   The defense was overall good, but (again) the outside shooting was exceptional although the final % doesn't sound like it. 

See the stats and numbers below (it shows Parker started, but McClain actually did).  You'll see a good rotation of the starting five with true freshman Taylor Stewart getting 30mins of playing time along with rotation of Parker and Avery Merriex.  The other two freshmen Noonan and Atkins were in for under two mins.  Props to both junior Avery Merriex  and Fr Taylor Stewart with good play and no turnovers scoring 9 and 10 pts respectively.  I think Taylor Stewart is the real deal.   Andrew Henke played very well and was high man with 18 points (but some missed FT's).  Excellent overall at 6-9.  Holland 4-4, Johnson 5-10….Evan didn't shoot well but had 8 rebounds and 2 blocks…this young man can fly!

Overall a much closer game than desired or thought…..but maybe that's what this team needs to learn and grow.  I'm pleased at the poise they showed and the lack of turnovers.  They came from 10 down to up by 10 the back to even….so an up and down night.  But they never quit!


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