BOISE, Idaho – This was a math problem.
Well, it was a basketball problem. A maturity problem, according to Air Force coach Dave Pilipoivich. And a matchup problem.
But the math was particularly problematic.
Boise State blew by the Falcons 76-52 on Saturday because the Broncos were adding by 3s (making 14 of 28) while the Falcons were doing a more basic form of arithmetic.
“They don’t want any penetration and they don’t want to let you get a lot of easy buckets,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said, “so you have to hit some (3s).”
Hit them they did. The hosts buried seven consecutive 3-pointers during one stretch at Taco Bell Arena. Of their 15 buckets during a prolonged 22-minute span, 12 came from behind the 3-point line. It was then that a five-point Air Force deficit stretched to 23.
Chris Sengelder, with 17 points, led Boise State. Conference Player of the Year candidate Chandler Hutchison had 11 points and 10 rebounds to go with four assists.
Lavelle Scottie led Air Force with 11 points.
The Falcons, who gave up 10 early points in the paint to a taller, bigger team, stuck with a matchup zone defense, and Boise State (21-6, 11-4 Mountain West) spaced out the zone and caught fire from the outside.
Air Force, which shot 38.5 percent and went 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) from 3-point range, couldn’t keep pace. The Falcons were also outrebounded 35-25 and Boise State had 19 assists compared to Air Force’s eight.
“I thought we looked a little tired,” Pilipovich said. “I thought we were a step behind. I thought their physicality from the beginning, they buried us in the post and got the ball in the post and just were able to back us down and score over us inside. And the maturity. I thought we were really immature in our play early. I thought our shot selection wasn’t what it normally was. I thought we settled for some stuff because we didn’t attack their physical play.”
Asked to expand on his “immature” assessment of his team, Pilipovich said a more experienced team would have fought through Boise State’s defense to look for more shots on the interior.
“I can see why he says that because there are times we do need to work on that, where we do try to do things on our own,” said freshman Keaton Van Soelen, who scored 10 points with three assists, three rebounds and one block. “We just need to trust what they’re putting in and stick with the offense and the game plan.”
Air Force tried mixing up defensive looks, and it tried different offensive combinations. A different group started the second half, with Scottie and Ryan Swan replaced by Van Soelen and Frank Toohey, and a quick 4-0 start to the half briefly cut the deficit to nine. But then Boise State hit two more 3s, the deficit swelled to 15, and Air Force was never part of the game again.
“We changed some things, but I’ll give them credit,” Pilipovich said. “They did a really good job of attacking our bigs and making them go from a block to a corner whether we were in man or zone because of the way they spaced out. They were better at execution than we were.”
The math gets no less murky for Air Force from here on out.
The Falcons return home Wednesday against San Diego State, beginning a stretch of five games in 11 days to close the regular season. The Falcons (10-15, 4-9) would need to run the table in order to enter the Mountain West Tournament at .500, and even one loss would require a run to the tournament finals in order to finish with the required .500-or-better mark to gain entry into one of the secondary postseason events.
Still, the Falcons remain optimistic that a better stretch is coming in the comfort of their own gym.
“We have some winnable games in our future,” Scottie said.
WARM GREETING FOR FALCONS
Prior to the singing of the national anthem, Boise State's public address announcer asked fans to thank Air Force's cadet-athletes for their service.
Applause followed, which grew for several seconds in a rare moment of appreciation for a team on an opponents home court.
"It was an honor," Air Force sophomore Lavelle Scottie said. "We don’t really get that going into other places. It’s the first time actually this year that has happened to us. It was just an honor to be in the presence of people who respect us and wish the best for us and support us and what we do off the court."