Strong Second Half is Silver Lining in Exhibition Loss to Air Force
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Sunday's game against the NCAA Division I Air Force Falcons was exactly what it was meant to be for the Division II University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Mountain Lions - a growing experience.
Growth, unfortunately, is usually accompanied by pain.
A dismal first half dug a hole from which, despite a strong second half, UCCS could not escape as the Mountain Lions dropped a 66-53 decision to the Falcons at Air Force's Clune Arena. The game was an exhibition for UCCS and the regular-season opener for Air Force.
There was plenty to be optimistic about following the game. The Mountain Lions outscored Air Force 38-34 in the second half. After committing seven turnovers in the first 10 minutes, the Mountain Lions had just five over the final 30 minutes. UCCS overcame an incredulously bad first-half shooting performance to hit 48.1 percent of its field goal attempts in the second half.
"We learned a lot from this; you always learn more from a loss than from a win," said UCCS coach Russ Caton. "Hopefully, it put a spark in these guys, making them step up a little bit."
Then there was the first half. That was the painful part.
UCCS struggled with Air Force's defensive intensity from the start. Unable to get their feet set, the Mountain Lions shot a miserable 19.2 percent (5-for-26) in the first half, including a big 0-for-8 on 3-pointers.
"It was tough for us early on," said 6-foot-6 UCCS post man Rob Howe, who had the unenviable task of trying to contain Air Force's 6-foot-10 Taylor Broekhuis. "With Division I teams, they're going to bother you with their size and athletic ability. It was our first game against that kind of competition and it's not something you can simulate (in practice)."
Despite that, UCCS managed to close to within 11 after two Brent Jones free throws, a Jordan Carter three-point play and a layup by Luke Hristou completed a 7-0 run to make it 26-15 with 1:48 remaining in the period.
Air Force recovered to extend the gap to 32-15 at the intermission. The lead swelled to 27 as the Falcons started the second half by making five of their first seven field goal attempts.
"It took us 25 minutes before we settled down and started playing some basketball," said Caton. "One thing we've got to do a better job of is playing against the game, not just our opponents. In practice, a lot of this stuff comes a lot easier, so we feel like we're getting some things done. But the level is a little different (in the game)."
What that means is that the faster things are moving physically, the slower you need to be able to make them mentally. When the Mountain Lions started acting upon what they know rather than reacting to what was being thrown at them, they began to make plays.
"We tried to slow down and get under control and start doing the things we know how to do." said Howe,. who finished with 12 points, five rebounds and three blocked shots. "We knew the shots were going to go down eventually. You don't shoot 19 percent for a half very often."
The shots did start falling. J.T. Isaac scored eight straight points to make it 50-31. The teams matched scores until a 7-0 run on two Jones free throws, a Carter layup and a 3-pointer by Howe, made it 62-51 with 2:16 remaining.
Air Force, wisely, went into delay mode and the remainder of the games points were all scored from the foul line.
Jones led the Mountain Lions with 13 points and seven rebounds. Isaac added 10 points and Carter seven to go along with his five boards.
Air Force's Michael Lyons paced all scorers with 17 points. Tom Fow added 14, Derek Brooks 12 and Broekhuis 11. Evan Washington had a game-high nine rebounds to go along with his 10 points and four assists.
The Mountain Lions will open their regular season at a classic in Durango next weekend. On Friday, they will face Northwest Nazarene and on Saturday they take on Eastern New Mexico.
"This was a good test for us," said Caton. "The best thing is it doesn't count against us (being an exhibition)."
But as growth goes, it should count plenty for them.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
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