Whenever Air Force basketball reemerges from its unwelcome hiatus, it will do so with bolstered depth.
For now, though, the wait remains.
The Falcons at this point have announced no plans to add any games this week. They have had two of their past three games postponed by COVID-19 cases within their opponents’ programs. Those unexpected breaks, plus an open date in the schedule this week, will leave coach Joe Scott’s program playing just one game in a span of 16 days – Tuesday’s 67-59 loss at No. 20 Colorado State.
“It’s not about the games,” Scott said. “It’s about growing, it’s about getting better. It’s about having the team together so we can do that. That’s what we’re doing.”
When games resume for Air Force (8-5, 1-1 Mountain West), Scott will have more trusted options.
Prior to the Dec. 29 conference opener against Utah State, Scott had used his top eight players for 1,980 of the 2,000 minutes the team had logged.
Then came the COVID cases within Air Force’s programs that have sidelined center Lucas Moerman, guard Joseph Octave and key reserve Jeffrey Mills for two games and leading scorer A.J. Walker for one.
In their absence, Scott has had to turn elsewhere; and players have thrived.
Carter Murphy, who had played just three minutes over the first 10 games after missing much of the preseason with a wrist injury, played 53 minutes in those two games. Against the Rams, Murphy hit 3-of-3 3-point attempts, committed no turnovers, grabbed five rebounds and scored 13 points.
“You have to be flexible,” Murphy said. “You have to be able to trust your teammates that you’re out here with every day because you don’t know what can happen. With COVID, everything’s crazy right now.”
With the addition of Murphy, the Falcons now have six players who have attempted at least six 3-pointers this season and are connecting at a clip of 36 percent or better.
This stretch also saw 6-foot-11 center Ryan Corner log 15 minutes, providing valuable experience should the team’s two regulars in the post hit foul trouble.
And it wasn’t just the guys who hadn’t seen regular action who benefited. Camden Vander Zwaag, who had averaged 16 minutes per game in the first 10 contests, played the full 40 minutes in the Falcons’ 49-47 win and the near-miss in Fort Collins. He averaged 10 points, shot 50 percent and had six assists with three turnovers in those games.
“This really helped us realize some of the pieces we have and how many more guys we can really lean on in tough spots,” said freshman guard Ethan Taylor, the team’s leader in minutes played, rebounds, assists and steals.
None of this was as planned. Scott would have preferred to have his full team together either to practice or play as he works to lay the program’s foundation.
But what he has seen from his team through two conference games will work, too.
“I can watch and coach a team like that every day, all day,” he said of the effort against Colorado State. “I mean, if that’s who we’re going to be, which is what we’re striving to be, and we compete that hard … that’s all we want here.
“In the end we’ve got to find the good in it, and I think they are.”