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Air Force adds sophomore, freshman to the lineup and falls at Fresno State

December 30, 2017 Updated: December 30, 2017 at 8:19 pm
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Air Force's Ryan Swan tries to block Indiana State's Jordan Barnes during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, in Terre Haute, Ind. (Joseph C. Garza/The Tribune-Star via AP)

This was anything but same ol’ same ol’.

Well, expect for the result.

Air Force changed up its lineup and approach but fell 71-59 at Fresno State on Saturday.

The Falcons lost by double digits for the fourth straight time against Division I competition. They shot under 40 percent for the fourth time this month, and they failed to reach 60 points for the fifth time in those contests.

This marks the 24th consecutive road loss for Air Force in Mountain West play.

But this one had a vastly different ebb and flow to it, and some promising developments for the Falcons (6-8, 0-2 Mountain West).

Sophomore center Ryan Swan made his second career start, freshman forward Keaton Van Soelen drew his first and senior Jacob Van returned to the lineup. The changes seemed to work. The Falcons slowed their attack, worked the ball inside and led 15-11 after Fresno State suffered through nearly 6 scoreless minutes.

Then came the Bulldogs’ answer, an 18-2 spurt that kept the Falcons at arm’s length throughout. But unlike other recent games, Air Force kept it at that distance instead of letting it get away. They closed to within 31-24 at halftime and were within seven points in the final 3 minutes.

Air Force compensated for its continuing shooting struggles by getting to the free-throw line and converting, hitting its first 14 attempts in the second half and finishing 19 of 22 from the line.

The problem was one of its changes came on the defensive end in a move that took away from its help defense. That opened up the basket for Fresno State (11-4, 1-1), which capitalized by shooting 63 percent in the second half and negating that slew of Air Force free throws.

Coach Dave Pilipovich expressed to 740 AM’s Jim Arthur that he saw improvement, but, again, shooting and other little things prevented this game from being a little closer down the stretch.

Swan scored 13 points and was the only Falcon in double digits. Van Soelen had eight points in 30 minutes. Lavelle Scottie had nine points and five rebounds but attempted just one shot from the field, a 3-pointer that he made.

“I think it just might be us having confidence in ourselves,” said Swan when asked by Arthur to explain the team’s shooting woes. “We have to step up and make shots we know we make and we make in practice.”

Air Force has a week off to consider which changes to keep and discard before hosting Nevada on Jan. 6 and UNLV on Jan. 10.

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