NEW YORK – Air Force made every attempt to treat this like any other game. And, unfortunately for the Falcons, that’s how it played out.
The same problems that have plagued the team in recent weeks showed up again at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and Army took full advantage to blow out Air Force 79-54 in the Advanced Auto Parts Holiday Festival.
At the venue that has housed the biggest acts in the world, the Falcons played a greatest hits of their recent woes. They allowed Army to shoot 51.6 percent on 31 3-point attempts. They committed 21 turnovers. They missed a slew of shots around the rim, as interior players Lavelle Scottie and Frank Toohey shot 1 for 14 and the team made just 24.6 percent of its attempts. And they again received inconsistent performances, with Scottie and Pervis Louder each going scoreless.
Different – much bigger – stage; same results.
“We’re missing point-blank layups,” said guard Trevor Lyons, who scored a game-high 18 points. “We know we should be making those shots, and when we’re missing it’s definitely frustrating for us.”
Air Force (5-6) has now lost six of its last seven games against Division I opponents, with those losses coming by an average of 12 points. The Falcons haven’t broken 60 points during a three-game losing streak, they’ve had five games in which they’ve shot under 40 percent this season and they’ve dropped four in a row to Army (7-4).
“That’s definitely a game we want to win,” said Army guard Jordan Fox, who scored 16 points, nailed all four of his 3-point attempts and had four steals. “To win that the last four years, we have bragging rights for that whole year so it means a lot.”
Air Force fell behind 11-2 in the opening minutes and needed a 10-3 run over the final minutes of the first half to cut the deficit to nine at the break. Lyons hit a 3-pointer during Air Force’s opening possession of the second half to make it 40-34, but Army responded with two 3s and the Falcons were never again within single digits of the only service academy foe on the schedule.
Lyons and Jacob Van – who scored 14, made 9-of-17 shots. Everyone else was a combined 5 of 40.
All of this, particularly the slow start, was specifically what Air Force tried to avoid. At no point were the words “Madison Square Garden” uttered during the pregame meeting at the hotel, on a silent bus ride to the famed arena or in a pair of pregame locker room speeches from coach Dave Pilipovich.
“I think we were caught in the awe early with the magnitude of the building,” he said. “So, you try to downplay it and keep it as normal as possible, but it isn’t normal because of what it is. We didn’t play well.”