Clune Arena transformed into a fun-house mirror for Air Force during a Friday matinee.
With winless NAIA foe Johnson & Wales on hand to provide the reflection, the Falcons could look as good as they wanted. And look good they did, scoring the most points in a game for the program this century.
So what if the 111-68 victory represented not an ounce of reality for a team that had dropped six of eight and opens the Mountain West slate on Wednesday at New Mexico, it was still fun for these guys to see themselves like this.
“It was much-needed,” said senior Jacob Van, who hit both of his 3-point attempts and is 4 of 4 from 3 in two games after beginning the season 1 of 12. “We were all pretty happy in the locker room, it felt good for sure.”
Air Force (6-6) built a 62-28 halftime lead and, after a slugging minute or two, had its way with Johnson & Wales (0-16). The Falcons outscored the Wildcats 58-12 in the paint, 25-7 off turnovers and 76-15 in bench scoring.
Reserve center Jonathan Dewane scored 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Ameka Akaya, James Edwards, Bryce Hughes, Chris Joyce and Charles O’Briant each hit their first collegiate buckets.
Shooting woes have been the primary issue for the Falcons through the nonconference. They haven’t shot better than 50 percent in any of their losses and on three occasions were under 40 percent – including 24.6 percent in a rock-bottom, 25-point loss to Army on Sunday.
Obviously most of the difference Friday, as the team shot 61.4 percent, was the level of opponent. But coach Dave Pilipovich pointed out that with the semester over, the team has had more opportunities to get in extra shooting.
“When you’re not hitting the ball well off the tee, you’ve got to go to the driving range, right?” he said. “If you’re not making shots, you’ve got to get in and shoot.”
On Friday, the team experienced the affirming feel of shots falling. NAIA foe or not, with a crowd of 1,818 on hand for a game that counts, there’s something to be gained from experiencing success.
The team is hoping that provides a jolt for players like Keaton Van Soelen, a freshman who has logged nine or more minutes eight times this season but had yet to provide much on the offensive end. On Friday, he scored 12 points, including his first 3-pointer.
“It felt good. There were a couple games where I’ve been in and I feel like I’m playing well, but I just don’t score often and I’m not aggressive enough,” Van Soelen said. “But today I felt like I found a rhythm and I was able to get a few points out there.”
The 6-foot-7 Van Soelen said he played more confidently Friday, and the same could be said for most of the roster.
Confidence is a tricky thing that is based more on perception than reality. The hope for Air Force is that this new perception – skewed though it may have been Friday – continues into the conference season.
“It kind of marks the end of one season and the beginning of a new one,” Van said. “We know we’re not going to have any easy games here on out, so I think it was good to get a little confidence game and then get ready for a big tests we’ll have the rest of the year.”