SAVANNAH, Ga. — University of Evansville men’s basketball coach David Ragland showed his team an animation before Saturday's Hostilo Hoops Community Classic contest.
The animation shows two men mining for diamonds. One gave up just before he got to the jackpot, the other was furiously digging above him. Ragland hoped this would show the Purple Aces what they needed to see from their five-game losing streak — “that’s what resilience is all about,” he said.
They did that, and Blaise Beauchamp provided the diamonds with his corner 3-pointer with 13 seconds to play, giving UE a 54-53 win over Robert Morris.
Beauchamp’s shot wasn’t a drawn play, but something he saw he could do. With Colonials’ big Stephal Walker guarding him, he saw a chance. When Marvin Coleman II drove to the left side, “I knew it was going up. He wasn’t going to be there,” Beauchamp said.
“I was going to live and die by that. I work on it every day, man,” he said. “I got the confidence to take it and the coaches got confidence for me to make it.”
Kenny Strawbridge Jr. brought the ball up the floor on the play before handing it to Coleman. The memory of Beauchamp hitting a similar shot earlier was fresh in his mind, so Strawbridge didn’t even need to see it fall through the net.
“As soon as he released it,” he said, “I knew it was in.”
While the diamonds were provided, early signs pointed to a sixth consecutive loss. UE went into halftime down by 12 points and was second-best in nearly every measurable category. Robert Morris guard Josh Corbin scored 20 points before halftime and had everything he wanted.
Maybe it was down to the Aces playing their third game in four days. Maybe the Colonials simply came ready to play. Whatever the reason, the fact remains: The first half was ugly.
That’s what makes the second-half turnaround so impressive.
“To be straight to it, they punked us in the first half,” Strawbridge said. “We came out slow. … We’re never going to fold.”
That’s when Ragland referenced the animation again. Diamonds. He questioned whether UE wanted to get the diamonds: “We had a serious conversation in the locker room. … Do we want to win this game? How bad do we want to win it?” Strawbridge said.
“At the end of the day, you have two decisions. You either fight or run,” Ragland said. “I think that resonated with the group. Even though we were down a good amount, double digits, at halftime, they found a way, kept fighting, stayed resilient.”
After the break, the Aces found their diamonds.
UE held RMU to a 1-for-14 start from the field and kept the Colonials from scoring for six- and three-minute stretches. Corbin only scored two points in the second half and the Aces forced 10 turnovers. While RMU’s Michael Green III had the final shot, it bounced off the rim.
“I stopped breathing,” Ragland said. “I prayed. Fortunately, it didn’t go in.”
When the game reached its final stages, those changes and adjustments led to Beauchamp’s diamond finish.
“Closing games is a big test for a team,” Beauchamp said. “It’s just sustaining it for 40 minutes straight and getting the right-time stops and the right-time shots at all times. Once we get over this hump, I think we will come downhill from here.”
The first half is the biggest concern for UE. The Aces are yet to put together a complete game since the opening win at Miami (Ohio), but that won’t be the concern at the team hotel. Ragland said the celebration will last 30 minutes before turning attention to Sunday’s game against Fairfield, the final showdown in this multi-team event.
But for those 30 minutes, UE gets to reflect on snapping its losing streak, the second-half turnaround, Beauchamp’s winning shot, and finally finding some diamonds.
“I think it proved to the guys that, if we stay the course, everything we talked about can happen,” Ragland said. “We stayed the course, we got it done, so now it’s doing it again. Now, it’s having some consistency with who we are, what we’re about and what we’re going to get done.”
This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: Blaise Beauchamp hits winning shot to snap Evansville's losing streak