COLORADO SPRINGS – The baskets at Clune Arena must have been as big as a swimming pool, because the Air Force men’s basketball team could not miss.
In a remarkable shooting performance, the Falcons beat the Rams 80-75 Saturday in Colorado Springs, hitting 23 of 32 field goals from the floor, while converting 27 of 34 free-throw attempts.
“I told our guys before the game that being at home has to show up somewhere in our game,” Falcons’ head coach Joe Scott said. “Today it showed up in our shooting.”
Executing every facet of their game plan, the Falcons jumped out to an early 36-28 halftime lead using backdoor cuts, low-post sets and anything else that came to mind to keep CSU’s defense on its heels.
“They made some tweaks in their offense and took advantage of our guards not being as physically tough as they needed to be in the post,” Rams head coach Dale Layer said. “This was by far the worst defensive effort we’ve had all season.”
The loss pushed the Rams’ losing streak to a season-high four games while dropping their overall record to 14-9 and conference record to 3-5. The Falcons, on the other hand, broke a four-game losing streak of their own and pushed their record to 11-10 overall and 2-6 in the conference.
The Falcons’ hot shooting started from the opening tip as sophomore Tim Keller got an open lay-up for the game’s first two points. The Falcons continued to get open lay-ups during the course of the half and finished the period shooting 13 of 15 from the floor.
The story of the half, however, was the play of freshman guard Antoine Hood, who filled in for injured starter Vernard Jenkins – out with a severely sprained ankle – at the point. Hood hit all six of his field goal attempts and all six of his free throws while scoring19 first half points, the most by a Falcon in one half this season.
As Hood, who finished with 30 points on 8-of-11 shooting, cooled off in the second half, Keller took charge by scoring 22 of his career-high 26 points in the half, and using his outside touch to thwart every Ram rally.
Though down by as much as 11 points, the Rams would not let the Falcons slip away as they managed to get some big shots down the stretch from sophomore Matt Nelson – who led the team with 21 points – and seniors Brian Greene and Andy Birley. Any comeback, however, was thrown aside by the Falcons’ surprisingly high-scoring offense.
“Antoine Hood made a huge contribution and everybody was making big shots,” Keller said. “We did a lot of different drills this week to prepare for this game and it paid off.”
Even though Air Force was shooting the lights out, Layer said the team’s lack of effort is what caused the loss.
“We weren’t tough enough, physical enough, aggressive enough or intense enough to win this game,” Layer said. “It’s really unfortunate … I’m extremely disappointed.”
To add injury to insult the Rams watched as starting point guard Michael Morris left the game permanently with four minutes to play in the second half after knocking heads with Air Force forward A.J. Kuhl. His condition was not known at press time.
The Rams now turn their focus to an improved New Mexico Lobo team and the raucous crowd that awaits them Monday night at The Pit in Albuquerque.
“I think they played their worst game against us,” Layer said about the Lobos, who fell to the Rams Jan. 13. “They have done a lot to improve since then. We have to ready to take on the challenge of facing 16,000 fans and the Lobos.” n