Air Force needed to play close to perfect – and with unmatched enthusiasm – to beat New Mexico on Thursday night.
It did neither.
So the result, predictably, was a 17-point home loss to arguably the hottest team in the Mountain West Conference.
Air Force showed some heart to come back from a double-digit first half deficit, but was sloppy and flat after halftime. Once the Falcons fell behind by double digits again, they became a bit impatient, coach Jeff Reynolds said. They took some shots too early in the shot clock, not allowing the offense to produce better looks.
- It’s time to start Andrew Henke in place of Matt Holland.
More for Holland than for Henke.
Let me explain.
Holland has started all 25 of the Falcons’ games this year and has been one of their more pleasant surprises.
But he has played just 9, 5, 10 and 9 minutes in the past four games, respectively. The past three games he’s started the second half on the bench.
Now, I know Reynolds likes the “energy” that Henke provides off the bench. And I know he and Henke recently discussed Henke starting and they decided against it. And I know that Utah’s Johnnie Bryant has had lots of success playing a sixth-man role for the Utes.
On Wednesday night against New Mexico, Holland was replaced by Henke just 1 minute, 13 seconds into the game. Does it do Holland any good to play 73 seconds before getting yanked? I say no.
He’s played just 33 minutes the past four games combined. Two of the Falcons’ other starters played that many or more on Wednesday night. So he’s got to know he’s a starter in name only. And I would imagine that's hurting his confidence.
So wouldn’t bringing him off the bench be the perfect solution? Instead of playing a couple minutes to start the game and then going to the bench for the remainder of the half, why not allow him to provide the energy and spark off the bench? I’ve got to believe that he would feel a whole lot more comfortable with his place on the team if he was playing 5-10 minutes as a bench player instead of a starter. I think it would just change his whole mindset.
And how about playing Holland and Henke at the same time? Henke for one of the starting guards and Holland at the three-spot?
- I remember last year, when the Clune Arena win streak was nearing 30 games, doing a piece on the building and Air Force’s recent success there. Several coaches – including Jeff Bzdelik – noted that home-court advantages start with the players. In other words, no matter how loud or big or quirky or intimidating an arena is, it doesn’t guarantee victories without a good team playing on its floor.
I think that’s part of what’s happened this year. Air Force enjoyed a remarkable home-court advantage when it had its most impressive collection of talent at the academy. Most of those players now are gone. The team is rebuilding, and the players must help rebuild the aura of dominance on their home floor.
But I can’t let the fans off the hook either. Clune had its lowest attendance for a Mountain West Conference game on Wednesday night. Saturday against Wyoming the excuses for poor attendance were the great weather, the three-day weekend and the great skiing conditions in the mountains. What was the excuse Wednesday night? For the second straight game, there was zero electricity from the fans at the start of the game.
- Saturday's game at Colorado State sets up as a major trap game. The Rams are 0-11 in conference but played TCU tough Wednesday night. Air Force can't afford to start slowly or look past this game at all or it will be in big trouble.