Air Force carried lofty expectations into its season opener.
That weight made the thud even more pronounced.
The Falcons opened what still figures to be a season full of promise with a disheartening 89-79 home loss to Idaho State on Thursday night.
The Bengals had 41 points from Terik Cool – the most for an Air Force opponent since 1995 – and outscored the Falcons 36-3 from the 3-point line.
“We get at least 500 shots up before practice,” said Air Force junior Chris Joyce, who had 14 points but went 0 for 4 from 3-point range as the team went 1 of 11. “It’s hard to explain. It might be first-game jitters. We’re experienced, but there’s always going to be first-game jitters.”
Idaho State took care of its first-game jitters in a 54-40 loss at Wyoming on Tuesday. In that game, Cool went 1 for 5 from 3-point range and 1 for 6 from the free-throw line. Against the Falcons, the junior college transfer was 4 of 8 from 3 and 15 of 15 at the line.
“He put on a performance, didn’t he?” Air Force coach Dave Pilipovich said.
In so many ways, this was a nightmare scenario. Coach Ryan Looney just came to the NCAA Division I level after taking Point Loma Nazarene to a Division II runner-up finish last year. The only video the Falcons had of Idaho State under Looney came from the game at Wyoming, where the Bengals shot 17 percent from 3.
In this game, they went 12 of 30 from 3-point range.
But the Falcons pointed only at themselves.
“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but it was the outcome we deserved,” Pilipovich said. “We had too many breakdowns defensively.”
The Falcons trailed by 11 at halftime before rallying to lead by as many as four points midway through the second half.
But turnovers, missed blockouts on the glass and ill-timed fouls down the stretch allowed the Bengals to pull away.
Air Force made 24-of-27 shots from the free throw line, shot 65.2 percent in the second half and outscored Idaho State 48-24 in the paint. And that wasn’t enough.
“We have some really good leaders on this team,” Joyce said. “We’re going to talk to each other and say we’ve got to move forward from this. We’ve got to take this loss and learn from it and build from it. I definitely think we can do that.
“It’s just the first game. We’ve got a lot of season left.”