KENT: Chris Evans looked a reporter in the eye. Without a hint of hesitation, he answered a question about his health by insisting that he’s not injured.
That was postgame Wednesday after the Kent State senior forward spent more time on the bench cheering on his teammates than he did playing in the Golden Flashes’ 73-71 victory over Fairfield (Conn.) in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament at the M.A.C. Center.
Evans’ six-point, two-rebound performance against the Staggs came in just 15 minutes of play. Four days earlier, he had a season-low, six-point output that included just one field goal in the Flashes’ 62-59 loss to the University of Akron in the Mid-American Conference semifinals.
It’s rather obvious that something is wrong with Evans.
When fellow senior guard Randal Holt was asked what the Flashes needed to do to prepare for the second round of the CIT, he mentioned two things:
“Focus on defense and getting this guy right here back into the groove of how we’re playing,” Holt said, nodding at Evans as an indication of his importance to the team’s offense and defense.
Evans sprained his right ankle in the final minutes of KSU’s 87-72 victory over Central Michigan on Feb. 9, but did not miss a game the rest of the way. Yet, the Flashes’ leading scorer and rebounder this season sported a walking boot to practice two days before the start of the MAC Tournament.
Although the 6-foot-8, 220-pounder won’t admit to being hurt or recently reinjuring the ankle, his production in the Flashes’ last two games indicates otherwise.
Ever since Evans carried Kent State to a 70-68 victory over Buffalo in the opening round of the MAC Tournament by scoring game highs in points (25) and rebounds (15), he’s been a shell of himself.
“Chris isn’t 100 percent,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff admitted after the win over Fairfield. “I just don’t think he wants anyone to feel like that’s an excuse on his part. But he keeps fighting through and trying to help us. He obviously struggled against Akron and he struggled in the first half [against Fairfield]. But everybody knows that if we have any chance to continue to advance in this tournament, we’ll need him to play well. We’ll need one of those Buffalo games out of him at some point.”
The Flashes (21-13) might need a big game out of Evans this afternoon — if he’s up for it — when they take on host Loyola-Maryland at 3 p.m. In its first-round tournament game Tuesday, host Loyola (22-11) dispatched Boston University 70-63 to advance.
Like Fairfield, the Greyhounds are a member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and defeated the Staggs twice this season — earning a 63-58 overtime victory at home in Baltimore and then defeating Fairfield 65-60 on the road in Connecticut.
The only other common opponent between KSU and Loyola is Bucknell, which both teams lost to in disappointing fashion during the regular season. The visiting Flashes were defeated by Bucknell 76-60 while the host Greyhounds lost 66-46.
“Loyola is a good team,” Senderoff said. “They have two first-team all-conference players [6-foot-2 combo guard Dylon Cormier and 6-foot-7 post player Erik Etherly] in the MAAC. Our leagues are very similar. If you’re a first-team player in the MAAC, you’d be a first-team player in our league. It’ll be a challenge for us.”
Especially so considering Senderoff’s Friday blog entry on the team’s website revealed more information regarding Evans’ status heading into today’s game.
“Chris Evans saw our team physician [Thursday] night,” he wrote. “He has had a number of treatments and we are hoping he is feeling better by [today] … Chris has been hurt for a while. He got hurt in our last regular-season game at Akron. He didn’t practice much at all in the week leading up to the MAC Tournament, although he probably had the best game of his career against Buffalo. But I think the next day he was very sore and just didn’t play against Akron.
“He still had some Chris Evans-type moments, but he just didn’t play well. I know Chris doesn’t want to say that his ankle had anything to do with how he played in that game, so I’m going to say it didn’t. But he is a little banged up. Regardless, our kids are going to go to Loyola and they will compete hard and try to continue to advance in the CIT.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.