Michael Lyons generally doesn't keep tabs of scoring stats. He doesn't know his average and doesn't follow his climb up the Air Force all-time charts, dismissing it as a “selfish stat.”
But even Lyons took note of his most recent performance.
“Yeah, I had three points,” Lyons said, two days after the fact.
The senior guard -- who averages 18.3 points -- was held to single-digit scoring for the first time this season in Wednesday's conference opener against Nevada. That Air Force won 78-65 despite Lyons' off-night illustrates several points. First, the Falcons possess scoring depth. Second, Lyons brings value even if it’s not as a scorer.
"Hopefully it’s something that doesn’t become the norm with me not being able to score,” Lyons said. “But if my teammates are hot, then we’re going to go with them. The same person doesn’t have to score 20 every night to get it done.”
Lyons had just two assists, but like a double-teamed star wide receiver his presence helped open other parts of the court.
Lyons was 1-for-8 from the field, but his teammates made 23-of-38 attempts (61 percent).
“They were very conscious of it when he caught the ball,” Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich said. “They’d press up on him to make sure he didn’t get by. They were pretty physical with him too, bumping him, pushing him on his cuts. So that did open up some opportunities for some other guys.”
Recognizing Lyons’ value even without the typical scoring numbers, Pilipovich kept him on the floor for 33 minutes. Other teammates didn’t quite have that leeway. Sophomore DeLovell Earls started but played just six minutes.
“He wasn’t locked in early,” Pilipovich said of Earls, adding that the Colorado Springs native will remain in the starting lineup for Saturday’s game at UNLV. “He was a little careless with the ball, so we brought him out to calm him down. The people we replaced him were pretty good.”
That will continue to be Pilipovich’s strategy with a few exceptions – like Lyons. With a squad that is deep but not spectacularly talented, he’s got to find the hot hand or at least the player providing positive minutes.
That will be especially important in Las Vegas. A crowd of more than 15,000 will likely greet the Falcons at the Thomas and Mack Center. Pilipovich expects his seniors to adeptly handle that atmosphere, but he can’t anticipate which underclassmen might develop “sweaty palms.”
Expect the players who can keep their composure to stay on the floor, and that almost assuredly will include Lyons.
The senior from Newport News, Va., will end up among the top five all-time scorers in Air Force history if he stays healthy and doesn't see a drastic drop in his production. He needs to average 10 points over the remainder of the regular season to pass Bob Beckel (1956-59) in that spot.
But, as always, Lyons is quick to point out that there's more to his game than that.
“Scoring’s not everything,” Lyons said. “Scoring’s not all I can do.”