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Freshman Sid Tomes breaks out for Air Force in lopsided loss

February 15, 2017 Updated: February 15, 2017 at 10:39 pm
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photo - Air Force forward Hayden Graham tries to deny Nevada forward Cameron Oliver a shot during the second half of a game at the United State Air Force Academy on Wednesday, February 15, 2017. Nevada defeated Air Force 78-59.  photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette
Air Force forward Hayden Graham tries to deny Nevada forward Cameron Oliver a shot during the second half of a game at the United State Air Force Academy on Wednesday, February 15, 2017. Nevada defeated Air Force 78-59. photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette 

Air Force reeled in a whopper Wednesday as it continued its fishing expedition for key players down the stretch.

Granted, the boat sank in the process. But that's of secondary concern at this particular point.

The Falcons fell 78-59 to Nevada in a rare blowout loss at Clune Arena. Cameron Oliver played like the future NBA talent he is in scoring 25 points with 15 rebounds for the Wolf Pack, who moved within half a game of the Mountain West lead.

In the loss, Air Force identified a burgeoning playmaker as freshman point guard Sid Tomes scored 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting.

Tomes' previous career high had been five points, and he had played in just five of 20 games before making a surprise start Saturday in a quiet performance at Boise State.

This one wasn't so quiet.

"That was the Sid we thought could give us those minutes and do those things," Falcons coach Dave Pilipovich said.

These are obviously tough times for Air Force (10-16, 3-10 Mountain West), which has lost eight of nine. But Pilipovich and his staff decided a series of oh-so-close losses had piled high enough that the necessity to shuffle the lineup trumped the stability of knowing they could lose by small margins.

Consider that in a 83-76 loss at Nevada on Jan. 18 - a game that came down to the closing minute - Air Force gave 30-plus minutes to four players and played only one freshman for 10 minutes.

On Wednesday nobody played more than 30 minutes and six freshmen played for a combined 77 minutes.

"We're 3-10 with what we've gone with, so maybe we can add some pieces in there to fix it and finish it and put it together and maybe something will spark us," Pilipovich said.

The obvious trade-off, particularly against a team with the size advantage of Nevada (20-6, 9-4), are some growing pains. That manifested itself Wednesday as the Wolf Pack outrebounded Air Force 42-22 and the Falcons attempted 30 3-pointers (making just eight). The new combinations running the offense couldn't find back-door chances on the inside. But this turnaround is intended to reap benefits in three weeks at what should be a wide-open Mountain West Tournament, not next year, so the Falcons couldn't wait any longer.

"We're lost right now and we're looking for answers," said Hayden Graham, the senior captain who scored 14 points despite playing just 21 minutes because of foul trouble. "Coach is trying everything he can."

The team feels like it's added a piece to the puzzle in Tomes, who is past the initial jitters he said he felt in his first start.

Expect the Falcons to fire up a new boat Saturday at San Jose State and put the line back in the water.

"I think it's going to work," said Tomes, a Minnesota native. "We're going to find the guys that are going to do what it takes to win. When we do that, I think we're going to be a very dangerous team. We're just going to keep chipping away at it."

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