Michael Lyons flew far beyond good in Air Force’s running, gunning, entertaining victory over a Boise State team depleted by injury and inept at playing defense.
Lyons, Air Force's senior guard, was spectacular, collecting 37 points (on only 18 shots), six rebounds and three assists. It was not a mechanical performance. It was thrillingly theatrical.
He hit shots with three defenders engulfing him. He hit no-look shots with his right hand and left hand. He rose a foot above the rim for a second-half dunk.
For the past dozen seasons, the Falcons have attempted to take the game back to ancient times, draining the clock with a conservative, plodding style.
This season, Lyons leads a basketball revolution. Air Force, led by the most talented Falcon to compete in Clune Arena in this century, plays the game in the modern style. Offense is, against all odds, back in style at the academy.
With Lyons leading the way, this revolution could result in fun times and a surprising number of victories. The Falcons boast a star who could lead them into the middle of the pack in a rugged Mountain West.
First thing Lyons needs to realize is he is this team’s undisputed leader. Most college basketball players, whether they sit the bench of play 35 minutes a night, have a lofty view of their skills. Too lofty.
Lyons is different. When the game isn’t going his way, he’s content to step back and watch his teammates take over. He’s modest, to a fault.
This is a mistake. Air Force will fail to rise to the level of its collective talent if Lyons declines to relentlessly assert himself.
He’s blessed with a determined, experienced supporting cast, but it is a supporting cast. He’s the boss.
I asked senior point guard Todd Fletcher if he’s comfortable being described as part of a supporting cast. He did not hesitate.
“Oh, no doubt,” he said. “No doubt. Very much so. … Mike can do it all. He’s so hard to guard.”
Yes, he is.
He’s also difficult to understand. As Lyons heads toward the conclusion of his Air Force career, he remains a mystery. On certain nights, he looks ready to become one of the two or three best players in the Mountain West.
On other nights, he gets lost and wanders through entire games. Coaches and teammates try, but fail, to place him back on track.
Immediately after Saturday’s win, coach Dave Pilipovich embraced Lyons.
“We need it again,” Pilipovich said. “We need more.”
Lyons listened to his coach. It was, he said, both a “compliment and a challenge.”
It had been a bizarre week for Lyons and the Falcons. On Wednesday, Air Force traveled to Fort Collins and suffered through a basketball beatdown. The Falcons scored 40 points and might have needed an additional 20 minutes to arrive at 50. On Saturday, Air Force scored 47 points in the first half with Lyons looking ready to beat Boise all by himself.
The difference? Quality of competition has much to do with the vastly different games. Boise will try, and fail, to excel at defense this season.
But the transformation had more to do with Lyons. On Thursday and Friday, he stormed through practice, dominating his teammates. He was stern and focused as he prepared for his starring role in Saturday’s win.
The Falcons are not destined to win the Mountain West. That’s not going to happen.
What could happen is a surprise season with the Falcons hovering close to a .500 conference record. After stumbling to 10 wins and 36 conference defeats in Lyons first three seasons, seven or eight MW wins would be cause for rejoicing.
Lyons must stand at the front of the parade. This is against his nature. This is what must be done.