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Seniors bow out on top as Air Force sets 3-point record in victorious home finale

March 3, 2018 Updated: March 3, 2018 at 6:53 pm
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photo - Air Force seniors shake hands with their replacements as they head to the bench for the final time in the closing minutes on Saturday. (BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE)
Air Force seniors shake hands with their replacements as they head to the bench for the final time in the closing minutes on Saturday. (BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE) 

Jacob Van envisioned a senior year full of days like this.

While that never materialized, Van can take solace in having brought one of his vintage performances in his home finale.

Van scored 23 points – his most in 16 months – and led Air Force’s record-setting 3-point barrage as they topped San Jose State 83-61 on Saturday as five outgoing Falcons were honored.

“I knew this was the last game in Clune (Arena), so I really had to make a statement and make it memorable,” said Van, who hit six of Air Force’s program-best 16 3s on a record 41 attempts. “So I just came into the game relaxed, confident and I knew I’d knock down some shots; and that’s what I did. It felt great.”

This was an all-around feel-good day for Van and his fellow seniors. Their season did not go to script, with Van, Frank Toohey and Ryan Manning all dropped from the lineup in favor of younger players.

But what the season lacked, this day had.

Toohey hit two early 3s and finished with nine points, his largest output in nearly two months.

Manning hit a pair of second-half 3s, marking just the third time in conference play that he’d connected on multiple attempts.

But it was Van who enjoyed the biggest day. The one-time sophomore sensation, who scored 20+ three times at the end of that breakout campaign, had only reached that scoring threshold once since that season.

Not only did Van score 23 on Saturday, he dished out seven assists and added three steals.

“I think this will be the most memorable one,” said Van who has scored 20 points five times as a Falcon. “My parents were here, my girlfriend was here and got a chance to really see me play well and it was a big game – it was Senior Night.”

Air Force (12-18, 6-12 Mountain West) outscored San Jose State (4-25, 1-17) 30-13 to close the first half and take any drama out of the result. The six wins is the most in conference for the Falcons in four years and the seventh most in history.

With a comfortable lead, the Falcons were able to bring in all the seniors (even C.J. Siples, hobbled by an ankle) with about 3 minutes remaining. When Trevor Lyons – the steadying force in the class – hit a 3-pointer, the class subbed out together to loud, sustained applause from a crowd of 3,018.

“I think I’ll remember that one,” said Lyons (who had a career-high 13 rebounds) of the final home shot, which broke the record for 3s in a game.

“If you could have written the script prior to the game, this is how you would have wanted to do it,” coach Dave Pilipovich said. “Those guys have been great for us all year. Obviously we had some changes in some lineups and changes in personnel, and every team goes through that. Our obligation is to put the best on the floor with what we feel and it doesn’t matter what year they are. These guys never put their head down. They kept working, kept encouraging the younger guys. And there’s more basketball to be played.”

VAN'S BIGGEST GAMES
Senior Jacob Van scored 23 points on Saturday, his fifth such performance while at Air Force.
Feb. 16, 2016    21  vs. UNLV W, 79-74
Feb. 20, 2016    22   vs. New Mexico  W, 76-72
March. 9, 2016   37   vs. UNLV*   L, 108-102 (3OT)
Nov. 4, 2016       23   vs. Jacksonville   W, 86-68
March 3, 2018   23   vs. San Jose State   W, 83-61
*-At Mountain West Tournament
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