First it was Ryan Manning. Then came Dane Norman. The Air Force forwards flew to the basket and followed teammates’ misses with highlight-reel dunks.
It was an early sign that this team might be a little bit different at Clune Arena this season.
These new-look Falcons took out Texas State 65-57 in Sunday’s season-opener, and they had fun doing it.
“When they get tho
se put-back dunks, everybody in here goes crazy. Even me,” said guard Trevor Lyons, who scored 13 points to go with six rebounds, four assists and a steal. “I don’t usually show too much emotion on the court, and I was emotional.”
Pervis Louder matched Lyons with 13 points, adding four rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The Falcons led 20-11 in turnovers, pried away 11 steals and had a 16-4 advantage in fast-break points.
Those put-back dunks couldn’t help but stand out simply as a display of athleticism and improvement in a troublesome area. Second-chance points have long haunted the Falcons, who also are rarely known for their raw abilities around the rim.
Sunday was only one day, but this new batch of athletes showed what they are capable of doing – grabbing 10 offensive boards for a 10-9 edge in second-half points against a Texas State squad that won 22 games last year.
“If we can get to the rim, that puts some pressure on (opponents) to block out,” coach Dave Pilipovich said. “Always the pressure is on us to block out. We’ve got to put some pressure on some other teams to get the glass, as well, and I thought we did that.”
This wasn’t against a cupcake, either. Texas State should at the very least be considered a peer of the Falcons. The Bobcats finished No. 182 in ESPN’s RPI rankings last year. Air Force was No. 249. Texas State’s rank was in the vicinity of Mountain West teams Utah State (179) and San Jose State (190), which went 3-1 against Air Force.
Sure, teams are different year-to-year and it’s only Nov. 12; but there’s something to be gleaned from this.
“It’s always fun to start the season off with a win,” said sophomore center Ryan Swan, who scored seven points with six rebounds and logged a career-high 26 minutes. “Coaches are happy. We’re happy. And it feels like a payoff for all the work in the preseason.”
Swan is another example of change on the team. He dropped 25 pounds in the offseason and showed immediately that he can provide a needed safety net behind starter Frank Toohey, who has a history of foul trouble.
And then there’s Lyons, who said he’s feeling as healthy as he has since his freshman year.
Last year he had to make up a swimming class that a hand injury kept him from taking as a sophomore. There were games in which he would have to go through a rigorous hour in the pool, sometimes in full combat gear, and then play exhausted in games later that day.
The senior is not doing that this year. Without that burden and with a body that’s finally healthy, he clearly has an extra spring in his step.
On Saturday, as Air Force jumped to a 17-point lead and cruised to a victory, this whole team looked a little more bouncy.
COACH GIVES $1,511 FOR CANCER RESEARCH
Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich pledged to donate $1 for everyone in attendance on Sunday to support cancer research.
Attendance was announced at 1,511.
“It’s a start. It’s a start. I wish we would have had more, but I appreciate the 1,500-plus who were here,” Pilipovich said. “It’s a start and hopefully we can build on this the next time we do it. I really appreciate everyone who came out to support the cause and watch the Falcons play.”
Pilipovich and his wife, Kelly, each lost a parent to cancer during this past offseason.
Air Force’s first four games are part of the Men Agaisnt Breast Cancer Showcase, a non-exempt event that aims to raise money to fight the disease. The Falcons wore uniforms with pink lettering on Sunday and plan to wear them throughout the event.