Game #9-014: Air Force vs. Army Black KnightsNovember 10, 2012 2:00 pm
I have long been a fan of the service academies. It could be football or basketball, but as a kid I would always root for them. With several members of my extended family having served in them, it was easy to become a fan. As I got older, I still cheered them on as I more and more realized the disadvantages they have in Division 1 athletics.
In basketball, Army and Navy have the benefit of playing in the Patriot League, giving them a somewhat competitive chance during the season. Navy has had the most success with its 11 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and most notably having David Robinson in the late 80s. The Black Knights of Army have not been nearly as successful and are one of five original Division I schools never to have made the NCAA Tournament.
Then there is the case of Air Force, which resides in the Mountain West Conference. While I do root for all of the service academies, I have always shown a bit more favoritism towards the Falcons. As a kid around 10 years old or so, it was my second choice of colleges that I wanted to go to (Penn was my first, and obviously neither of those worked out for me). I had followed the Academy throughout the years in the WAC and now the Mountain West even with their limited success over that time.
As we know around here, the Mountain West resides well above the Red Line and we usually celebrate any Red Line Upsets throughout the year. I have the same amount of joy that many of you have when these upsets occur, except for when it happens (and it happens a lot) to the Falcons. I'm glad a team from a smaller conference got the win, but I'll always be an Air Force fan at heart.
With all of that in mind, it became a no-brainer when the schedules were released and I saw that the All Military Classic was going to be held at The Citadel this year. This small multi-team event in its second year includes Air Force, Army, The Citadel, and VMI, with each team getting to host in a four-year span. The short trip to Charleston would give me the chance to catch two games in one day and allow me to see the Falcons play for the first time in my life.
The drive to Charleston went a lot better than expected, considering that last year around this time it was a construction nightmare leading into the city. While Mt Pleasant, the city just north of Charleston, still has a good amount of orange cones, it has died down considerably. I timed it just right as I entered McAlister Field House right as the National Anthem was playing.
The first game of the day would be Army against Air Force. While I was not expecting too big of a crowd, there was a good smattering of supporters for each side. I liked how many of the Black Knight faithful were wearing "Beat Navy" or "Sink Navy" shirts despite their opponent, just to hammer home the rivalry between those two academies
The whole theme of this season for us is team, and you cannot get more team oriented than the service academies. They both came out looking great on offense with everyone making the extra pass and several backdoor cuts to the basket. It was a matter of superb execution that gave Air Force the early advantage of 12-5. It should come as no surprise since the Falcons were starting five seniors.
Army's solid offensive discipline started to pay off though along with their star player Ella Ellis stepping up. His three with seven minutes to go in the half had them up 27-21, but the Black Knights were not done with the hot shooting from outside. Kyle Wilson hit another three to up the score to 37-28 and it looked like Army might be running away with it. Air Force could not get anything going as none of their shots were falling.
At the half there was a good performance by a local high school band that I could not hear the name of due to McAlister Field House's poor PA system. There was only about 15 to 20 of them, but they still put on a spirited show. I was also able to catch a snapshot of the All Military Classic trophy that one of the teams would be taking home Sunday night.
In the second half, Army kept putting the pressure on with the first seven points, pushing the lead to 14 and forcing a 30-second timeout by the Falcons. The small Army contingent in the crowd was fired up and it seemed as if the rout was on. Air Force tried to respond by slowing down the game and driving in the paint, using their size advantage with Taylor Broekhuis. That strategy only kept the game hovering around double digits since Army kept responding with big shots.
It was not until Army started getting careless with the ball and Michael Lyons went on a personal five-point run with a dunk and three free throws after getting fouled while shooting behind the arc. Army squelched the run for a bit, but both teams started to falter on offense. The extra passes from earlier in the game were disappearing and forced shots were becoming the norm.
Around this time, we hit a media timeout and they did the usual t-shirt toss. In my time, I have never actually caught a t-shirt when I've tried to stand up and get one. The ones I have gotten have fallen right to me when I'm not trying. Today was the same case, as I could have fair caught the t-shirt that fell into my lap. It was a cool design, but unfortunately too small for me.
After my lucky fortune was when Air Force's run started to show its face. A Mike Fitzgerald layup and ensuing three had the lead down to two for Army. That quickly because a tie game when Todd Fletcher forced a steal off Ellis and made a breakaway layup. That's when the game started to get real good with some rugged play in the paint and the teams trading the lead down the stretch. The fan bases for each team were both on their feet and feverishly cheering on each possession.
With less than three minutes to go, the Falcons turned back to Broekhuis who piled in six straight points to put the game out of reach for the Black Knights, who couldn't make a bucket to keep it close. I was glad to see an Air Force win in what probably will be the the only game I will ever see them play in, but it was still an honor to get to see Army on the same court with them.