As Citadel brass handed out awards after the title game of the All-Military Classic on Sunday, they might have considered a plaque for one corner of the court at McAlister Field House.
The plaque could read, “Air Force shot here.”
The Falcons made four clutch 3-pointers from that left corner in the final 6:30, and sank 15 3-pointers in all to bomb The Citadel into submission, 77-70, and win the All-Military Classic trophy.
“I’ve got to give Air Force a lot of credit,” said Citadel coach Chuck Driesell. “They hit some big shots, and made them when they needed them. Those aren’t easy shots with a guy flying at you and in that situation in the game. But they made them.”
Senior guard Michael Lyons was the chief culprit, exploiting the Bulldogs’ 2-3 zone to hit 7 of 12 from long distance. His 33 points were the most by an Air Force player since 2000.
Kyle Green made 4 of 9 on his 3-point tries for 18 points, and the Falcons (2-0) converted 15 of 34 for the game.
The Falcons’ sharp shooting and 16 Citadel turnovers (11 in the first half) spoiled an otherwise solid effort by the Bulldogs (1-1). They shot 56.8 percent from the floor and won the battle of the boards, 30-17.
Sophomore guard Lawrence Miller scored 20 points, senior center Mike Groselle had 17 points and eight rebounds, and sophomore forward C.J. Bray added 14 points.
“If you told me we’d do all that and hold Air Force to 33 percent shooting in the first half, I’d be pretty happy,” Driesell said. “They miss two or three of those 3-pointers late and we come down and score, some of those 3-pointers become a little more difficult.”
In a win over VMI on Saturday and against Air Force, the Bulldogs made a 2-3 zone their base defense, sometimes pressing fullcourt before falling back into the zone. Those teams combined to shoot 71 3-pointers (making 29).
“Sometimes we didn’t slide correctly and get there in time to contest,” Driesell said. “That’s something we need to work on.”
The Bulldogs led 30-28 at the half, but should have had a bigger lead. Eleven first-half turnovers, many of them unforced, led to 12 Air Force points. Freshman Matt Van Scyoc, impressive in his debut against VMI, had his “Welcome to D-I” moment with six turnovers (and no points) in 10 minutes.
“We were rushing too much and forcing the ball,” said Miller, who hit 6 of 9 on 3-pointers. “We were trying to do things we don’t need to be doing.”
Air Force led by nine early in the second half before the Bulldogs clawed back to 57-53. Then came four treys from the same spot in the left corner, one each by Max Yon and Mike Fitzgerald and two from Lyons.
The Bulldogs got to within 71-68 with 38 seconds left, but Air Force hit six straight free throws to win the trophy for the second straight year.
“I’m proud of our guys and how we fought for 40 minutes,” said Driesell, whose team continues a five-game homestand against Montreat on Wednesday. “Anybody who saw our team last year, I think they know these guys are much improved, and they are showing it on the court.”
Army 79, VMI 75
Ella Ellis scored 19 points and Army (1-1) held off a second-half comeback by Virginia Military Institute to win 79-75 in the third-place game.
Stan Okoye led the Keydets (0-2) with 29 points.
Air Force’s Michael Lyons was named tournament MVP, and was joined on the all-tourney squad by The Citadel’s Groselle and Miller, VMI’s Okoye, Air Force’s Green and Army’s Ellis.