There's no hiding from the growing pains, but oh my, this could be a fun season for Air Force basketball.
The Falcons had 35 points from Tre' Coggins and rallied from a 15-point deficit to tie Jackson State in the waning seconds, but a mental lapse from a freshman gave the Tigers the opening they needed for an 84-82 victory on Thursday.
Keep in mind this was just the first home game of the season.
"Man, this team is fun to be around," coach Dave Pilipovich said.
The end of the game was simply bizarre. The Falcons, who trailed by nine-to-12 points through much of the half, finally earned a tie at 82-82 with 13.8 seconds remaining on a 3-point shot from Max Yon - who had 22 points.
Air Force (1-2) had been in fouling mode for several minutes and freshman Callum Long didn't make the adjustment to the situation and immediately fouled Julysses Nobles on the inbound play.
Nobles hit both free throws and Air Force couldn't answer in the final seconds.
"He said, 'I'm sorry,'" Pilipovich said of Long. "We told him there's nothing to be sorry about. He's aggressive and thought he was doing what was right, just got caught up in the emotion and didn't realize the 3 tied it. You know, that happens."
Added Coggins, "Can't really blame him for it, because he didn't have the experience. Next time that happens there is no excuse."
The Falcons understand that issues like this may continue to creep up. They played five freshmen Thursday and saw the career debut of junior Scott Adler. In addition, Justin Hammonds, who had left the team over the summer and returned Tuesday, played 19 minutes after just two practices.
"I had been doing a little bit of running," Hammonds said of the routine that had him ready to play regular minutes on such short notice. "A little bit of playing pick up with some fellas."
Jackson State (1-2) built an early advantage that swelled to as large as 39-24. The Tigers entered the game shooting 36.2 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from 3-point range but upped those figures to 51.1 and 63.6 against Air Force.
"We just have a habit of coming out timid and giving up a lead," Coggins said. "It's not like we can't play, obviously, because we come back in every game. We've just got to come out stronger."
Coggins couldn't have been much stronger. The sophomore hit 12-of-15 shots, including 5-of-6 3-pointers and had just one turnover while playing point guard for 39 minutes.
Down the stretch, Air Force consistently found its points through Coggins and Yon, who scored all of his 22 points in the second half
There could certainly be value down the road in Air Force identifying players who can handle the scoring in tight situations, just as there will be lessons learned from Long's mistake and other miscues that might have altered the outcome.
Again, this was only the home opener.
"Sometimes we've just got that look in ourselves like we don't know if we found a leash or lost our dog," Pilipovich said. "We don't know. We've got to figure it out."