010322-AFA vs. Utah State 24.JPG

Air Force Falcons forward Rytis Petraitis (31) pushes his way around Utah State Aggies forward Dan Akin (30) at the Air Force Academy on Jan. 3.

Rytis Petraitis and Jake Burtschi.

Joe Scott coached both as part of Air Force men's basketball, and both bring a "glue" to the team. The former, as a freshman, is slated to enter the starting lineup in the near future after seeing his minutes increase seemingly every week en route to four consecutive Mountain West Freshman of the Week awards.

But it was the former Falcon that Scott compared him to at Monday's news conference, rather than anyone in the current lineup.

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"There's no question that Rytis's production says that he should be in the starting lineup," coach Joe Scott said. "He reminds me a lot of Jake Burtschi. They're the exact same player, they're just different because Jake was a little better shooter early on. The way they play basketball and the energy they have is very similar."

In his time at Air Force, Brutschi averaged 9.6 points across his four years from 2003 to 2007. He didn't make his way into the starting lineup until his sophomore year and started all 96 of his games the next three years.

For Petraitis, the growth in minutes has been gradual. The team's first seven games saw the freshman play just over 11 minutes per game.

In the last nine, he's reached 19 minutes in each, including three straight games with 25 or more minutes leading into the team's showdown with Colorado State on the road.

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He's up to nine points per game and averages a team-high 5.1 rebounds.

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Beau Becker may also find his way into the starting five in the near future.

The sophomore earned his first collegiate minutes after Lucas Moerman's injury. Since his debut against USC-Upstate, the big man has seen his minutes rise, including totals of 22 and 23 in the last two conference losses.

He'd likely replace Corbin Green, another freshman given minutes in the wake of Moerman's left shoulder surgery.

"We have to be able to compete right off the bat in these games," Scott said. "Making a change to the starting lineup (may do that). That doesn't mean guys will stop playing. I like our team.

"I'm still looking for guys these next two months that can help us and raise our competitive level."

Nikc Jackson, according to Scott, was also re-entering the rotation at center before a practice injury on Sunday.

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The senior has played just 28 total minutes in the past month after he was forced away, at the same time as Moerman, with COVID-19. Back soreness and return to conditioning initially held him out, but Becker and Green have handled the load since.

Jake Murphy may also receive additional minutes in the near future after standing out at practice in recent weeks. He played two minutes in the Falcons' loss to San Diego State Dec. 28, but hasn't seen playing time since.

Scott is looking for his five, and even five-or-more reserves beyond the starters. Above all, he's looking to be competitive after the team dropped three in a row to start the Mountain West slate.

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