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Air Force Basketball: Falcons Blow Double Digit Lead in Season Opening Loss

After taking a 15-point lead in the second half, Air Force was not able to hold on and suffered a 77-75 defeat to Southern Illinois in the season opener that was part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Challenge.

Byron Hetzler-USA TODAY Sports

When Zach Moer hit a pair of free throws to give the Air Force Falcons a 45-30 lead in the second half, it looked like Falcons would open the 2015-16 season in fine fashion with a road victory. But, the Southern Illinois Salukis would whittle away at the lead, and eventually would hold on for a 77-75 victory in the season openers for both teams. The Falcons and Salukis were taking part of the Mountain West versus Missouri Valley Challenge.

What needs to be a strength for this year's Air Force team ended up being one of its bigger problems. The Falcons are a small team overall so they need to hit the outside shot with consistency this season. Friday night, the Falcons would only hit four of 20 baskets from three-point land, something that cannot happen on a consistent basis if the Falcons hope to improve in the very difficult Mountain West Conference. Sharpshooting junior guard Zach Kocur, who became a starter halfway through the season last year, is the best shooter on the team, but only connected on one of his four shots from distance.

Leading the way offensively for the Falcons versus Southern Illinois were junior forward Hayden Graham with 19 points and sophomore guard Trevor Lyons with 18. Both of those players are much better in a slashing, penetrating style of offense and they were able to create baskets and opportunities for themselves all night. Graham and Lyons will be counted on heavily this season, with Lyons handling the ball often and Graham being a player who can come up with a double-double every night (he had 10 rebounds tonight) to lead the Falcons on both ends of the floor.

Rounding out the starting five for the Falcons this year are Moer who is the tallest player on the team at 6'11 and forward Ryan Manning. Moer would finish with 11 points on the night and Manning with five. The Falcons will be playing with a lot of players on the bench, but they appear to want to go with a nine-man rotation, with Dezmond James (3 points), Joe Tuss (2 points), Kyle Broekhuis (4 points) and C.J. Siples (5 points) getting all the minutes off the bench tonight.

The Falcons will look to rebound Monday evening at home at Clune Arena when they host Tennessee Tech at 7:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. It will be the first of three home games for the Falcons after tonight's opener on the road.