AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) -- Methodical as a metronome on
offense, pesky and persistent on defense, Air Force added a win
over a Big East opponent to its fast-growing list of
Tim Keller broke out of a slump, making his first four 3-point
shots Friday to help the Falcons snap a three-game losing streak
with a 70-53 victory over Rutgers.
Keller finished with 12 points and five assists and Antoine Hood
added 12 points for the Falcons (7-5), who ended Rutgers' four-game
winning streak and were successful in their first game against a
Big East opponent since 1988.
"To go out and compete, beat a team from the Big East, it shows
we're heading in the right direction," center Nick Welch said.
For years, teams from major conferences had no compelling reason
to play Air Force, a long-struggling program that won 22 games last
season and made its first NCAA tournament since 1962. Now, as the
Scarlet Knights (6-4) found out, there are new reasons to avoid the
Air Force ran its slow-down, Princeton-style offense by the
book, rarely letting Rutgers run or get into any kind of flow. On
defense, the Falcons made seven steals and forced 18 turnovers.
"Early in the game, I heard their coach say, `We've got six
turnovers already," Welch said. "Anytime you come down and turn
the ball over like that, it's got to be frustrating."
They also played in constant foul trouble. Freshman Ollie
Bailey, who averages 14 points and five rebounds, scored the game's
first bucket, then left 5 minutes later with two fouls. He finished
with two points and a rebound.
"The whole thing, we were just out of sync," said Rutgers
coach Gary Waters, who grew angry after seeing 10 of the first 12
fouls called against his team. "I thought they fought to hang in
there given the circumstances. It's kind of hard to play when
you're handcuffed on defense the way we were."
One of the coach's more impressive accomplishments on this
night: Avoiding getting a technical foul as the calls added up
against the Knights.
"I was going to get one," he said. "But I figured all that
would do is give them more free throws."
Keller finished 4-for-5 from 3-point range and the Falcons went
10-for-24 as a team. With the conference season coming up, Keller
needed a breakthrough. He was 8-for-36 over the last six games.
"Tonight, it was pretty open," Keller said. "It felt good to
shoot them and finally see them go in."
Most of Air Force's 3-point attempts came with the shot clock in
single digits, which not only nullified Rutgers' zone defense, but
demoralized the Scarlet Knights, too.
Air Force held Rutgers to 20 points in the first half, and
though the pace picked up a bit in the second, the Knights didn't
really start running and scoring until after they had fallen behind
by 16 with about 5 minutes left.
They fell behind by double digits with 5 minutes left in the
first half and never got it below that.
Several of the Falcons thought this was their best performance
of the season.
Asked about that assessment, coach Chris Mooney said, "Yeah,
there's a good possibility this was our most complete game."
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