It would be a misnomer to say Air Force has found a new lineup combination, considering a key pair of this new combination dates back to elementary school.
That’s when senior guard Trevor Lyons and C.J. Siples first started playing together. They actually began their athletic connection on the football field in Virginia, but that quickly translated to the hardwood as they led their 9-and-under AAU basketball team to the national tournament in Orlando and finished 13th.
Then Siples moved, first to Florida and then to Texas. They came to Air Force together but, because they’ve played the same position, haven’t frequently played together. Despite 115 starts between the two, only seven have come together.
But coach Dave Pilipovich has started the pair together five times this season and has been rewarded with five victories. Don’t expect the Falcons to tinker with a formula that is working.
“Those two have a little bit of a chemistry together that has helped,” Pilipovich said. “Those guys are like brothers, they’re so close. Their friendship is unbelievable.”
Lyons has started each game this season, leading the team in minutes, assists and steals while ranking second in scoring and third in rebounds.
Siples, on the other hand, has taken the scenic route to a starting role for the Falcons (10-13, 4-7 Mountain West). He popped into the lineup for two games in mid-January, which coincided with the team’s first road wins in three years. But even in those games he averaged just 9 minutes and was soon back to the bench.
Then, against Boise State on Jan. 27 he looked once again like the player who averaged 12.6 points as a starter over the final 10 games of his sophomore year (when he replaced the injured Lyons in the lineup). He utilized his quickness to get to the rim, he hit a pair of 3s and scored 16 points in just 17 minutes.
In the three games since then, Siples and Lyons have started together in the backcourt, and last week the Falcons averaged 89 points in victories over Colorado State and New Mexico.
“It’s been great,” Lyons said. “We’ve been waiting on an opportunity to play with each other again. He definitely brings energy.”
“We all feed off C.J.,” Pilipovich added. “He’s fun to be around. He gets us going.”
The senior pair – which has started with three sophomores for the past two games – will lead the Falcons on a two-game road swing this week to UNLV (18-7, 7-5) on Wednesday and Boise State (20-5, 7-3) on Saturday.
The Falcons will be heavy underdogs in both games, but a split would put the team in position to make a run up the standings with four of the final five games coming at Clune Arena. The Falcons played both close at home, falling 81-76 to UNLV and 70-64 to Boise State.
Air Force has no shortage of close losses like those. And their victories, while much-needed for the program, have come against winless-in-conference-play San Jose State, a sputtering Rams team awash in turmoil and to a New Mexico squad that was playing short-handed because of a suspension.
The Falcons know that if they are truly going to turn the corner this year, it needs to happen soon, and perhaps this pair of lifelong friends can help to unlock it.
“We’re barking a little bit,” Pilipovich said. “Now I guess we’ve got to go bite somebody.”
TOGETHER AT LAST
Between them, Trevor Lyons and C.J. Siples have played in 211 games for Air Force with 115 starts. However, the friends since elementary school have started together just seven times. In those games, the Falcons are 5-2, with losses at difficult venues including the Big 12’s Texas Tech (by one point) and in front of 11,482 at San Diego State. Here’s a look at the games the tandem has started together, along with the combined points/rebounds/assists for Lyons and Siples.
Nov. 30, 2014 at Texas Tech L, 63-62 11/6/2
Dec. 2, 2015 vs. Citadel W, 97-93 26/13/16
Jan. 13, 2018 at San Jose St. W, 78-71 9/6/4
Jan. 17, 2018 at Colorado St. W, 76-71 22/2/4
Feb. 3, 2018 at San Diego St. L, 81-50 3/5/6
Feb. 6, 2018 vs. Colorado St. W, 78-73 16/10/12
Feb. 10, 2018 vs. New Mexico W, 100-92 25/6/8