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Men’s Basketball Notebook: Academies will look to begin conference play strong

Air Force hosts Utah State on Wednesday to begin league action

Army v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

It’s an interesting time for not only college basketball, but the world.

With COVID-19 rampaging again, college sports are living day by day. As some athletes return home for Christmas, they test positive. Games are being canceled left and right. Luckily for the Academies, they have all been healthy so far.

That doesn’t mean that they’re immune and nothing will happen to them. On Tuesday, there were 29 games slated to happen. As of 4 p.m. eastern time, only 14 will be played. That’s BAD!

Last week every game was played for the Academies, and it was by far the worst week of the season result-wise. They finished 0-3, and none of the games were ever close.

Luckily, conference play is about to start meaning that it’s a new season!

Air Force will tip-off Mountain West play on Wednesday, while Army and Navy begin their new slates on New Year’s Day.

If they all play anything like they did in November, we could have a fun couple of months.

Results

Tuesday

· Tarleton State 67, Air Force 45

Wednesday

· Towson 69, Navy 52

· South Carolina 105, Army 75

This Week

Wednesday

· Utah State vs Air Force --- 3 p.m. (Mountain West Network)

Saturday

· Loyola (MD) vs Army --- 2 p.m. (ESPN+)

· Navy vs Holy Cross --- 2 p.m. (ESPN+)

· Air Force vs Fresno State --- 4 p.m. (Mountain West Network)

Air Force

Tuesday evening was not pretty in Texas. Air Force was held to 14 first-half points in its 67-45 loss to Tarleton State. It was their third straight loss before starting conference play.

Although the Falcons’ offense was not on their A-game, their defense struggled even more. In the second half, Tarleton shot a stunning 77%, finishing the evening with a 58% mark from the field. The 46 points they scored in the second half were more than what was combined from both teams in the first half. WOOF!

Freshman Jake Heidbreder was a bright spot for Air Force, scoring a career-high 15 points in the game.

The Falcons will begin its Mountain West slate with a Wednesday afternoon matinee against one of the perennial powers in the league, Utah State.

Last season, the Aggies dominated Air Force in both matchups resulting in 35 and 19-point victories. This season, new head coach Ryan Odom brings in a new surrounding cast around double-double machine Justin Bean. Don’t take anything away from Bean though, who is having a Player of the Year type season.

Through 13 games, Bean is averaging 19.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He is third in the nation in three-point percentage and fourth in true shooting percentage.

Complementing Bean is 6-10 forward from UMBC, Brandon Horvath. Although he’s limited with his three-point shooting, Horvath is second on the team in that category behind Bean. He also is the only other player to average double-digit scoring as he puts up 13.4 points per game.

In the backcourt, not many are better at dishing the ball out than Utah transfer Rylan Jones. Jones ranks 42ndin the nation in assist rate.

On Saturday, Air Force will take the trip out west to face Fresno State. Last season, the Falcons lost both games closely, losing by three and four.

This season, the Bulldogs are a sneaky team in the league, as they’ve begun the season with a 10-3 record. They also have one of the best all-around players in the country in 7-0 Center, Orlando Robinson.

Robinson ranks in the top 375 of 13 KenPom categories while averaging 18.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The next closest scoring average is 9.9 points away.

Air Force has its hands full this week.

Navy

“I just thought it was a typical game for us after finals,” said Navy head coach Ed DeChellis after a 69-52 loss to Towson on Wednesday.

The Tigers had an amazing shooting afternoon, led by Nicolas Timberlake who hit five threes and scored 24 points, resulting in Navy’s second loss in its previous three games.

Towson would finish the first half with a 55.56% field goal percentage, leading 40-25 at the break. They rolled into Christmas break never leading by less than nine in the second half, shooting 42.9% to end the afternoon.

Navy’s offensive bright spot happened on the offensive boards. Richard Njoku picked up nine offensive rebounds, a total that ties him for fourth in school history (the record is 11) while the team picked up 27, good for fifth in school history (the record is 37).

“I look at 27 offensive rebounds and that is (us) going to get the ball and being active on the glass. That’s a positive thing, but you have to make a shot every once in a while, too.”

The Midshipmen finished non-conference with a 7-4 record. They will head into Patriot League play with a target on its back, as they’ve played themselves into a favorite of the league.

It begins on Saturday as the Midshipmen take a trip up to Massachusetts to face 2-10 (both wins against non-D1 opponents) Holy Cross, a team who has yet to lose to a division one opponent by less than two possessions.

Army

The Black Knights dominated South Carolina for the first ten minutes on Wednesday.

After a 10-9 start, they would go on an 11-4 run over the next 2:37 holding the lead until the Gamecocks tied it up at the 9:46 mark at 25. The only problem is that South Carolina would outscore them 80-50 from there.

It was planned to be a learning experience for the Black Knights, and that it was. The 43 points they scored in the first half were the most against a D-1 opponent in the first half this season. They also shot a season-high 50% from three.

Josh Caldwell and Jalen Rucker carried a lot of that as they scored double digits yet again. Chris Mann did score a season-high though at 12 points.

“I thought the difference in the game was our ability during that stretch in the first half of taking care of the basketball as they got into us. We came out strong and played at a good pace,” said Army head coach Jimmy Allen.

The Black Knights finished its non-conference slate at 6-6 and will begin the conference slate on Saturday as they host Loyola (MD).

Tavaras Hardy’s Greyhounds have won five of six, which included a very impressive win at Fairfield.

Guard Cam Spencer is becoming more and more of a legend on the Evergreen campus (like his brother), averaging 17.6 points per game early this season. He also ranks 24th in the country in turnover rate.

It will be a solid early test for the Black Knights in Patriot League play.