Wyoming’s Eric Platt has just made a 3-pointer, Wyoming is up 25-13, Air Force is reeling, Clune Arena is silent and the Falcons’ three-game losing streak is starting to look like just the beginning of a dreadful end-of-season collapse.
Admit it – no matter how big an Air Force fan you are, if you were watching the game you thought the same thing.
Things looked awful, didn’t they?
There was a good explanation, Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said. The team was emotionally, physically and mentally drained – still – from its loss to UNLV on Tuesday.
Said Reynolds: “Coming into the game today, our staff was extremely concerned about whether or not we had left everything we had in Vegas. I told the guys the other day, and I really believe this, I mean it, I was fortunate enough back in 1981 to coach in the NCAA Tournament at James Madison University. And we played North Carolina in the first round, Michael Jordan’s freshman year, they went on to win it. The final score was 56-52, and up until the Las Vegas game the other night, I don’t know that I’d ever been involved in a game where both teams played that hard. We left it in Vegas. We started the (Wyoming) game out, we had no energy – no energy on the defensive end, no energy on the offensive end. And we were just walking in sand. And there’s really nothing you can do about that, the kids were emotionally and physically drained.”
So how in the world did they turn things around so dramatically and eventually go on to win 72-66?
“We made some substitutions, and we talked about, ‘Hey we’ve got to do something to get our energy going,’” Reynolds said. “And we brought the guys that weren’t a little leg-weary off the bench, and they sort of got going. We made one little defensive change, we just started trapping the ball on the first point-to-wing pass, and it created a little energy for us.”
And that little energy became a lot of energy. Air Force finished the first half on a 19-6 run to take a 32-31 lead into halftime. The Falcons then scored on eight of their first 11 possessions of the second half to take command of the game.
It was a dramatic turnaround.
Had the Falcons lost today, they would have taken a four-game losing streak into Wednesday’s game against a New Mexico team that blew them out earlier this year and now seems to be peaking. After that, a trap game at Colorado State. Then a trip to BYU.
-Andrew Henke is starting to have the impact on this team that many expected him to have.
I hate to go cliché on you, but Henke is “playing within himself.”
How’s he doing that?
1. He’s picking his spots carefully and wisely. Henke isn’t forcing up shots just to get them. He’s taking shots in rhythm and within the flow of the offense.
2. He’s begun driving the basketball more frequently. As Reynolds noted after the game, he has added the shot-fake-and-drive and shot-fake, one dribble and pull-up jumper to his arsenal. Teams had recognized how good a 3-point shooter Henke is and were doing everything they could to keep him from getting looks from the perimeter. Now that he has shown an ability to get to the hoop and score from mid-range, he’s opened up some more shots for himself from behind the 3-point arc.
3. He’s not passing the ball with reckless abandon as much. Henke sees the court and the game incredibly well – I’ve even floated the idea that he could play the point next year. But at times that leads him to throw passes that are open but that rate a 10.0 on the difficulty scale. He’s cut back on those, evidenced by his zero turnovers the last two games.
-So apparently the Falcons were feeling a hangover from the UNLV game in the opening 10-15 minutes on Saturday. What was the crowd’s excuse? I’d heard louder and more rowdy groups at chess matches. There’s a push to refer to the arena as “The Chamber.” During the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s game it was more like “The Library.”
And what’s up with Section 8? The only reason that name still works is because there are eight cadets up there for games.
-Good sign that Air Force was able to play so well against UNLV and beat Wyoming with – by his standards – subpar offensive performances by leading scorer Tim Anderson. In the two games, Anderson made just 7 of 23 shots from the floor.
-Evan Washington has run through the wall – if he ever really hit it in the first place. After going 3 for 24 and scoring just 12 points in a five-game stretch, Washington has made 14 of 23 shots in his last three games and scored 32.