COLORADO SPRINGS — The BYU Cougars haven't always shot the ball well in Clune Arena on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
They say it's a combination of the Falcons' deliberate offensive style, which tends to lure the Cougars into taking quick shots once they do get the ball, and the confined high-school like atmosphere of the arena.
Even in defeating the Falcons at Clune last season the Cougars had to make 11 of their final 13 shots just to reach 50 percent for the game.
But once BYU warmed up on Wednesday in a 67-49 rout of Air Force, the No. 17 Cougars had little problem making shots. The Cougars finished the game hitting 48 percent from the floor and 37 percent from 3-point range, but they shot 56 percent in the first half and were well above the 50 percent mark for the game until the final few minutes of mop-up time.
"It takes a little while when you go from playing a UNLV or a UTEP to Air Force; it takes a little bit of an adjustment (because of the game's pace) and I thought we did a pretty good job after the first couple of minutes," Cougar junior Jackson Emery said. He finished with a game-high 21 points on 5-of-10 shooting from 3-point range.
Freshmen Brandon Davies and Tyler Haws scored 11 and 10 points, respectively, for BYU to finish off the double-digit scorers. Junior Jimmer Fredette played for only the second time in four games since being diagnosed with mono and scored eight in 18 minutes. Center Chris Miles also scored eight in 13 minutes.
Even though the Cougars shot better this time at Clune, they really didn't need to because of Air Force's second-half shooting woes. The Falcons, after trailing only 36-31 at halftime, came out in the second half and scored only five points in the first 16 minutes on 2-of-21 shooting.
"I thought we did a better job in the second half where we played good defense for the first 20 seconds (of a possession) and finished the possession with a contested shot and then with a rebound, and that got us going," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "The concentration level of our team at halftime was to finish plays, because we knew they were going to run that clock down."
On the offensive end for BYU, the Cougars came out from the break on fire. When Emery drilled two quick treys, the Cougars were off and running and never looked back.
"Our guys have kind of shown that that's what they do," Rose said.
With a 15-2 spurt to open the final frame, BYU led 55-36 before the Falcons knew what had clipped them. At one point BYU stretched its lead to 27.
Not only was Emery's accuracy on, but Davies scored seven of his 11 in a mid-second-half stretch that forced the Falcons into picking which poison to fall victim to — BYU's inside game or perimeter game.
Davies also had a career-high 11 rebounds. Combined with Miles' output, the Cougars got 19 points and 13 rebounds from the center position.
"That's great numbers out of that position, and it really helped us to play through them because when that ball goes in there things kind of collapse and we're able to score," Rose said.
During Davies' scoring run, he also had the game's outstanding defensive play late when he blocked a dunk attempt by Air Force's Derek Brooks.
"I'm supposed to protect the basket, so I guess I did my job," Davies said.
The short-handed Falcons, playing without four starters, kept pace with the No. 17 Cougars in the first half, with the lead actually changing hands six times before the Cougars went on top for good 17-16 at the 9:20 mark on Emery's second 3-pointer. A subsequent 3-pointer and free throw by Fredette pushed the led to five.
But even though the Cougars never trailed again, they didn't really shake the Falcons until the second half. Keeping the Falcons in the game was Brooks, who came off the bench to score 10 of Air Force's first 18 points. In fact, the Falcons' bench outscored the starters 30-19.
"We had a lot of open looks and the ball didn't go in," Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. "I think our confidence level dropped after that."
A big turnaround came in the final seconds of the first half. Air Force guard Mike Fitzgerald hit a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down to cut BYU's lead to 33-31, but Jonathan Tavernari answered with an NBA-distance trey at the horn to negate that shot and send the Cougars into the locker room with the momentum.
"Anytime a team hits a buzzer beater it gives them a little bit of a boost," Emery said.
The Cougars host Colorado State on Saturday afternoon at the Marriott Center and have a follow-up home game on Wednesday against Wyoming.