Eight times in the past 13 seasons, Air Force basketball has won three or fewer games away from Clune Arena.
This year’s Falcons — 4-1 overall, including 3-1 away from home — have hit that number before Thanksgiving as part of a four-game winning streak.
“That can happen once,” coach Joe Scott said. “The trick is to go then go do it again. We’ve been sort of able to put these together back to back to back to back. That’s been a little, I’m not going to say surprise, but you know, it’s been a little surprising in sort of the consistency with which we’ve played.”
Scott points to the events down the stretch of the team’s lone true road win, 59-58 at Tulsa, as providing a jolt. Air Force overcame an 11-point deficit, took the lead on a 3-pointer from junior Camden Vander Zwaag with 23 seconds remaining and then the team sealed it with a defensive stop.
That remains one of just three true road wins for a Mountain West team so far this season. Air Force’s strength of record (a metric that measures how difficult a team’s W-L record is to achieve based), as measured by ESPON’s College Basketball Power Index, is No. 85 nationally.
Tulsa followed that loss to Air Force with a win two days later against Oregon State from the Pac-12.
There are positives throughout the stat sheet. Air Force is outscoring opponents 173-137 in the second half, the team shooting percentage of 47% is an improvement upon the 44.6%, 45.6% and 45.2% posted from the past three seasons, and this has been accomplished while breaking in three freshmen into starting roles in their first few weeks of college basketball.
Senior A.J. Walker has again emerged as the leading scorer (17 ppg) in a new role after handing off point guard responsibilities to freshman Ethan Taylor, who leads the team in minutes, assists and rebounds. Freshman Jake Heidbreder has reached double figure in scoring in three straight games. Sophomore Joseph Octave has averaged 14.3 points over his past three games. At center, freshman Lucas Moerman and junior Nikc Jackson have combined to average 9.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks.
“We’ve got to show that we’re going to have the resilience to play well, and then team ourselves to keep playing well,” said Scott, whose team now embarks on three straight games at home, beginning at 2 p.m. Wednesday against Denver (3-3) and continuing through a Dec. 4 matchup with Army. “That’s my No. 1 concern is just continuing to get our guys to really focus on making themselves play well individually, and then doing those things to make sure our team plays well. That’s a big-time skill. When you get to that point, that’s when you’re a good team. This is all about building to get to that point.”
Scott added that facing Denver, the program he led from 2007-2016, didn’t make this anything beyond “just another game for us.”
While the Falcons have no immediate plans to add to an eight-man rotation that has logged all but a few minutes this year, 6-foot-9 freshman Kaleb Lichau is expected to return from an injury and could compete for playing time.