Score: WSU 72, Air Force 69
Key statistics: Carl Hall scored a career-high 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting to help WSU make 28 of 48 shots, a season’s best 58.3 percent. That was enough to withstand its 19 turnovers, and the 20 points Air Force scored as a result.
How the game turned: WSU guard Malcolm Armstead made four free throws in the final minute and a last-second three by Air Force’s Michael Lyons bounced off the rim.
Records: WSU 8-0, Air Force 6-2
- WSU has its best shooting efforts of the season in consecutive games, going 28 for 48 on Sunday after making 52.2 percent (35-67) against Tulsa. Against Air Force, the plan was simple. Hall and Cleanthony Early scored in the lane easily. Early made 5 of 9 shots and scored 12 points. In the first half, the Shockers lobbed the ball over the defense for baskets. In the second half, Hall and Early did a good job getting position near the basket, especially early in possessions. “It was a huge key,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “When we did get it into Carl and Cle, we scored. That’s the advantage we had. We can pound it in down there, make and a move and score around the basket.”
- WSU improved to 21-3 on the road over the past two-plus seasons, best in the nation in that time. Much has been said and written about its road record. Until further notice: WSU is a great road team, mostly because it has good players and good coaching. “We just keep that road mentality,” WSU senior Demetric Williams said. “Ever since I’ve been here we’ve wanted to be good on the road and have that focus.”
- It struck me that Air Force was the first team to make the Shockers spend a lot of time thinking about where to go and what to do. Defending its offense requires discipline and WSU hasn’t faced anything like it this season. The Falcons changed defenses more frequently than other opponents. They made it a priority to get back on defense and stop WSU’s breaks (four fast-break points). “They’re a thinking man’s team,” Marshall said. “These guys fly big-time airplanes for our country. I’m glad it’s them doing it and not me. They’re a very cerebral team and they play to their strengths.”
- Air Force, outside of Colorado, hasn’t faced a strong schedule. Still, its offense entered the game with scary numbers. WSU focused on taking away the three-pointer, which sometimes helped the Falcons get layups. In the end, WSU held Air Force to 45.5-percent shooting. Only Colorado did better in its win, holding Air Force 45 percent. WSU limited Air Force to 31.3 percent (5-16) from three, its worst accuracy of the season. After a rough first half defending backdoor cuts (22 points in the paint), the Shockers slowed cutters in the second half and gave up 10 points in the paint. “Chris Jans. . . has done a marvelous job for three days preparing these guys for that offense,” Marshall said. “But it’s hard to replicate with our managers, our scout team.”
- Hall, with 10 rebounds, registered his fourth double-double this season, three more than last season. Garrett Stutz finished with 11 last season, most since Steve Grayer had 11 in 1988-89. You can read an exhaustively researched post on WSU’s double-double history here. Even in a 19-turnover game, WSU had 21 assists and many went to Hall, who did a good job beating smaller players to good spots and scoring over and through them. “The matchup zone, it’s hard to play that zone without giving up something,” Hall said. “I was just trying to sit in and demand the ball.”
- Hall had two assists, both late in the game. He found Early for a dunk, breaking the press, and a 70-65 lead. Earlier, he passed out of a thicket of defenders to Williams for a three and a 65-59 lead. “I knew I had a big on me, so I knew it was a mismatch so I knew Carl had a smaller player on him,” Williams said. “I threw it down to Carl. They knew it was a mismatch, so they tried to double down and Carl kicked it out to me for the shot.”
- WSU needs one win to equal its best start in program history. The Shockers went 9-0 in 2006-07, 2004-05 and 1920-21. Other teams to reach 8-0: 1981-82, 1980-81 and 1926-27.
- WSU has a reasonable shot to move into the AP top 25 today. If it does so, it will WSU’s first appearance in the poll in consecutive seasons since the 1981-82, 1982-83 and 1983-84 seasons.
- Former Shocker Ryan Martin, now an assistant at Northern Colorado, returns to Koch Arena on Saturday. The Bears are 1-4 with losses to Wyoming and Colorado State. They play at Northern Iowa on Wednesday.
Next up: vs. Northern Colorado, 7 p.m. Saturday