2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Confidence Builder

Published: November 20, 2007, 1:22 am, by admin

The crucial victory for the 2007 Air Force football team came in Week 2, when the Falcons made a goal line stand to seal a win over Utah, a team none of the players on the team ever had beaten.

It showed the players that they could make big plays in big situations, and it gave them a taste of winning.

Yes, we can do this.

Monday night’s 52-47 overtime victory over Radford might do the same for this young Air Force men’s basketball team.

Now, I don’t expect the Falcons to have surprising success akin to the football team’s. While the football team is stocked with experienced seniors, the basketball team has just one player (Tim Anderson) back from last year with any significant playing experience. And Air Force likely will struggle when it faces some of the more difficult teams on its schedule – look no further than the upcoming trip to Spokane.

But Monday night was a step in the right direction.

The moment that seemed to make Air Force believe came when Evan Washington splashed two rainbows through the net with 3.1 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. That’s a freshman on the free throw line in front of 6,008 fans. And when he came through, the burden of doubt seemed to lift.

Washington’s smile said it all:

Yes, we can do this.

“We definitely came into that huddle after Evan hit the free throws and kind of looked at each other and said, ‘All right, let’s take this one from them, let’s take this one,’” junior Andrew Henke said. “And we came out and hit shots early in overtime.”

Give the coaching staff credit for encouraging its players to keep shooting, keep shooting, keep shooting with confidence. And that had to have been tough after Air Force missed 20 of 24 shots in the first half (including all 14 3-pointers), the worst half of shooting since a March 2, 2000 game against BYU.

“I think it’s a mental thing with shooters – you either quit shooting, or you continue to shoot,” Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. “And we kept telling them in the huddle, they’re gonna drop, they’re gonna drop. Just keep believing.”

The players did. Henke hit a pair of 3-pointers after missing his first six. Anderson hit one in overtime after missing all six of his regulation tries.

But the Falcons did not just wait until their shots started falling. They also took the ball to the basket more aggressively, played tougher defense and did whatever else they could to get back in the game.

“Any time you face adversity and you respond to it, it shows the character of a team,” Henke said. “Whether it was Tim hitting shots in overtime or me or Anwar getting to the free throw line to kind of help us get back into the game, it shows those younger guys what it takes – that resilience to win the game and to keep pushing and keep pushing no matter what the situation. We faced that adversity and we responded well to it tonight.”

Yes, we can do this.