This was not your run-of-the-mill beat-down of an in-state cupcake. After all, one of those cupcakes was doing the feasting on Air Force less than a week ago.
The Falcons left with a much better taste in their mouth this time, trouncing NAIA foe Johnson & Wales 90-65 in the season opener at Clune Arena on Tuesday.
Air Force did all the things a bigger program ought to do. It shot 57 percent while limiting the Wildcats to 41 percent. It held a 46-16 advantage in the paint, 11-2 on second-chance points, 21-5 on fast breaks and a smothering 46-6 edge in bench scoring.
This came just five days after they lost by 20 to NCAA Division II visitor Western Colorado in an exhibition that exhibited plenty of faults for a team with high expectations.
“I wasn’t concerned,” said Lavelle Scottie, who returned after sitting the exhibition with pneumonia and scored 12 points with seven rebounds on Tuesday. “That just showed me that we still have places that we need to grow as a team.
“Everybody expects this group to be, just, good. It don’t work like that. You’ve got to work to be good. You’ve got to keep working to be even better than good. It’s going to come.”
Scottie entered with the score tied 8-8 and quickly led the Falcons on an 8-0 run, effectively taking the visitors out of the game.
“He’s a good player,” Pilipovich said. “He’s a different player. When he stays focused and can do the things he can, he can play for Nevada. He can play for UNLV. He can play for guys in this league. He’s a good player. We have others as well, but he can change things because of his athleticism and strength.”
But Scottie, a junior, wasn’t the concern. Nor was Sid Tomes (11 points), Ryan Swan (10) or Pervis Louder (9). The big unknowns are deeper on the roster, and those were the biggest positive signs on Tuesday.
Sophomore Chris Joyce, a 6-foot-5 guard, scored 15 points to lead the Falcons. Ameka Akaya scored eight. Charlie O’Briant had six. That trio, which shot 10 of 17, played a total of 68 minutes last year. Now, they will be expected to provide regular minutes off the bench.
“It definitely boosts my confidence a lot,” Joyce said. “It was good to just get that experience out there and getting some trust from the other guys in the locker room that I’m going to make shots when I’m open. It’s definitely good.”
Pilipovich believes his restraint helped the team make the quick turnaround.
He said he was asked over the weekend why he didn’t snap at his team after the lackluster performance in the exhibition.
“We’re educators,” he said. “We’ve got to build them up.
“You can’t just yell at them. You’ve got to teach them and you’ve got to put your arm around them sometimes. You want to kick them in the rear and yell at them, but sometimes you can’t do that.”