Dave Pilipovich described his Air Force men's basketball team with words seldom heard in the program’s history.
“We’re the running Falcons right now,” he said after Air Force’s 76-47 victory Wednesday over Jackson State at Clune Arena.
Yes, it’s true. Under Pilipovich’s direction, the Falcons are embracing an up-tempo, shoot-when-you’re-open style.
Last season, Air Force scored more than 70 points five times. This season, the Falcons have scored more than 70 points seven times on their way to a 6-1 record, which ties the best start in school history.
“Should we wait 30 seconds and then get a bad shot?” Pilipovich asked before providing the answer. “If we have an open shot 6 to 8 seconds into the clock, we need to take that.”
For years, the Falcons have played to a slower beat than most of the rest of the college basketball world. This season, Pilipovich took a look at his roster, which is loaded with shooters, and decided to make a change.
“We want to attack the basket, and if that means pushing the ball up the floor, we’ll do it,” Pilipovich said.
His players welcome the change in offensive philosophy.
“I love it,” senior point guard Todd Fletcher said. “It puts a defense on its heels.”
Fletcher emphasized that his teammates still know how to slow it down. This will give the team an offensive versatility that’s been lacking in recent seasons.
Fletcher led the Falcons with 20 points while sinking 5-of-6 shots from 3-point range. Pilipovich has encouraged Fletcher to relax more on the court. During his first three seasons, Fletcher was a thinking man’s player, to a fault.
Senior forward Mike Fitzgerald, who scored 13 points, believes in his team’s offensive might. The Falcons are no longer afraid to shoot the ball, he said.
“I definitely think we can keep this up,” Fitzgerald said.
He could be right if the Falcons can rebound the way they did Wednesday. In Sunday’s loss at Colorado, Air Force suffered through a pounding on the boards, losing the battle for missed shots, 46-19.
The Falcons nearly reversed those numbers against Jackson State. Air Force outrebounded the Tigers, 42-24. This surge encouraged Pilipovich. Jackson State is 0-4, but the Tigers have shown rebounding power. They outrebounded Texas Tech on Monday.
“It’s all about effort,” Pilipovich said of rebounding. “There’s the ball. You go get it. Don’t let them get it.”
Wednesday’s game was never in doubt. Air Force jumped to a 20-9 lead, and Jackson State never found its shooting touch. The Tigers missed 32-of-46 shots.
The one blemish on the Falcons' victory was free-throw troubles. Air Force missed 9-of-16 from the line. For the season, the Falcons are making 63.7 percent of their free throws.
“That will bite you,” Pilipovich said of the misses. “That bothers me. That bothers us.”