AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP)—Jeff Bzdelik won’t recruit a player who can’t knock down the 3.
Those players who were at Air Force before Bzdelik’s arrival at the academy last year quickly realized they had to start sinking 3-pointers themselves to earn any playing time, and that included big man John Frye, a 6-foot-10 senior center who had attempted just one 3-pointer in his life.
Frye was one of seven Falcons who hit long-range shots in No. 24 Air Force’s 70-47 rout of Norfolk State on Wednesday night.
“I never actually took a 3 until I came here,” said Frye, who made 19 of them last year and has two this season, including the Falcons’ most memorable one Wednesday night.
“I was laughing one time because as you can see, we’re not very good running the fast breaks,” Bzdelik said. “But one time when we pushed the ball, we were able to quickly get in our offense and John Frye hit a 3. And I said to my staff, ‘Now, that’s a Falcon fast break.”’
The Falcons (11-1) celebrated their return to the rankings by sinking 15 of 29 3-pointers.
“It’s rare that you see a whole five—not even five, however many players they have—that can shoot the 3 like that,” said Tony Murphy, who led Norfolk State (1-5) with 15 points.
Seven Falcons connected from beyond the arc, where Air Force actually shot better (52 percent) than it did from inside it (50 percent).
“That’s the best shooting team I’ve ever seen,” Spartans center Calvin Brown said.
And for good reason—Bzdelik begins every practice with a barrage of 3s, a half hour’s worth, followed by shorter-range jumpers.
“Sometimes we put music on. I love Motown. They’ve got accustomed to that. And we just shoot 3s to that. In a variety of ways,” Bzdelik said. “That’s a major weapon of ours. It’s just a major part of the offense, being able to space the court, and that allows backdoor cuts and opportunities to drive, and good opportunities to post up.
“And they’re very unselfish. Threes have to be manufactured through unselfishness. We had 24 assists today on 26 baskets.”
Jacob Burtschi scored 14 points and Dan Nwaelele added 12, all on 3-pointers, for the Falcons, who moved into The AP Top 25 Monday. The only other time Air Force made the rankings was in the poll of March 9, 2004. They were gone the next week after losing to Colorado State in the quarterfinals of the Mountain West tournament.
“Now, the most important thing is to stay there,” Bzdelik said.
They should stick around a while this time. The Falcons, who have won seven straight since losing to Duke in the CBE Classic semifinals, don’t play again until Dec. 23 at Northern Colorado following finals.
Falcons guard Matt McCraw returned from a sprained ankle that kept him out two games and showed very little rust or nerves, hitting three 3-pointers and an athletic one-handed putback among his 11 points. Andrew Henke also scored 11 points for Air Force, which extended its home winning streak to 23, third-best in the nation.
Air Force, which starts four seniors and a junior, and has five players averaging between 11 and 14.5 points, was at full strength for the first time in a week with the returns of McCraw and Frye (viral pneumonia).
“I was kind of kidding with coach earlier in shootaround that I could play 40 minutes,” said McCraw, who played 33 minutes because Bzdelik feared taking him out would allow his tender ankle to puff up again.
Tim Anderson caught an elbow from teammate Nick Welch early in the second half and left the game. Bzdelik said it wasn’t broken but bled enough for the team to keep him out the rest of the way.