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NBA veteran Damon Stoudamire directs Pacific's zone defense that stymies Air Force

November 21, 2017 Updated: November 21, 2017 at 10:26 pm
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photo - Pacific Tigers forward Anthony Townes (5), left, and forward Jahlil Tripp (0) block the basket attempt by Air Force Falcons center Frank Toohey (33) at Clune Arena at U.S. Air Force Academy on Tuesday  November 21, 2017 in Colorado Springs. The Falcons fell short to the Tigers 83-71. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).
Pacific Tigers forward Anthony Townes (5), left, and forward Jahlil Tripp (0) block the basket attempt by Air Force Falcons center Frank Toohey (33) at Clune Arena at U.S. Air Force Academy on Tuesday November 21, 2017 in Colorado Springs. The Falcons fell short to the Tigers 83-71. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette). 

Pacific coach Damon Stoudamire has seen enough of the Princeton offense to know the difficulty in preparing for it.

So the former NBA Rookie of the Year simply took it out of the equation.

With Stoudamire uncharacteristically calling almost exclusively zone defense on Tuesday night, Air Force couldn’t run its motion offense and couldn’t find a way around the Tigers’ length in an 83-71 victory at Clune Arena.

“I’ve played against the Princeton so much,” said Stoudamire, a first-round NBA draft pick in 1995. “I’ve seen it with (John) Beilein at Michigan and then in the pros with different variations. It’s tough and you’ve got to be disciplined. It scared me a little bit. The zone was good for us this evening.

“I’d be lying if I said I normally played zone like that.”

Air Force (3-1) can expect to see a lot more of it.

The Falcons, playing the second of back-to-back days, fell behind 10-1 and shot just 28.6 percent in the first half. They fell behind by 20, made a run to cut it to within six points late in the second half, but couldn’t continue it against a Pacific team that had eight steals and five blocks.

It was the second straight night the Falcons failed to shoot 40 percent against a team that played primarily zone defense.

“Better to see it now than later,” said Air Force guard Trevor Lyons, who had 12 points, five assists and four rebounds. “I think they did a good job because I’m pretty sure they were here last night scouting. If I was them I would played zone as well because we didn’t attack it really well yesterday.”

The Falcons wiggled out of their struggles with the zone Monday in a 57-47 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. They weren’t so fortunate Tuesday when Pacific (1-3), which entered shooting 25.7 percent from 3-point range, made 9-of-17 3s and shot 51.1 percent overall.

“I think when we see the zone we’re kind of iffy about our passes, but when we’re doing that we’re still turning the ball over,” Lyons said. “I think we’ve got to be more aggressive and more confident with what we’re doing.”

Lavelle Scottie led Air Force with 15 points and Dane Norman scored 14 off the bench. Freshman Keaton Van Soelen, who played 19 minutes, had six points, five rebounds and made the first field goal of his career with a soaring two-handed dunk over a defender in transition.

But the Falcons did not find consistent scoring, coach Dave Pilipovich said, because Lyons was the only one who would consistently penetrate the zone off the dribble.

“We’ve got to get someone else to be confident and look to attack,” Pilipovich said.

Air Force now plays three in a row on the road, starting Sunday at Colorado. Trips to Indiana State and Denver follow.

The Falcons finished 3-1 in the Men Against Breast Cancer Showcase. Pacific and their second-year coach, who played 14 seasons in the NBA, won their opener in the exempt event and now travel to Stockton, Calif., to face Pine Bluff, Texas State and Canisius for its conclusion.

“Hopefully this catapults us because I think it’s a great win against an undefeated team on their home floor,” Stoudamire said.

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