KENT: Kent State’s coaches and players had no idea how well Chris Evans would be able to play Wednesday night against Miami on his sprained right ankle.
They knew Evans, a senior guard, would tough it out and try to start. But no one knew how effective he could be running around with an injured ankle, hurt just four days earlier against Central Michigan. Evans missed a majority of this week’s practices.
But Evans shrugged off the soreness and led Kent State from the start — not only on offense, but more importantly on the defensive end, a piece that had been missing from the Flashes’ performances much of this up-and-down season.
When the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Evans was finally done for the evening — exiting the Flashes’ 87-70 blowout of the RedHawks with 5:11 to go to a well-deserved ovation from the 2,289 fans at the M.A.C. Center — there was no doubt he’d played his best all-around game of the season.
Evans had game highs of 22 points and 13 rebounds and led five KSU players in double figures. But it was his early defensive effort that set the tone, showing his young teammates the kind of pressure Kent State has been known for over the years.
“It was probably his best game of the year, certainly his most efficient in terms of him doing all of those things in 28 minutes — which is less than he normally plays,” KSU coach Rob Senderoff said of Evans. “I told him I’m going to kick him in the ankle Friday so he plays this well on Saturday.”
After the game, Evans admitted his ankle was sore during the game and especially tender afterward. But he was determined to block out the pain after a pre-game talk with graduate assistant coach Anthony Wilkins.
“My teammates were joking that maybe my ankle should be injured every game,” said Evans, who wowed the crowd with an array of dunks and had four steals, two assists and a massive blocked shot. It was his fifth career double-double.
“I wasn’t going to use the injury as an excuse, even if I had a bad game. When I sat down with [Wilkins] earlier, he told me, ‘Don’t let your injury affect how you prepare for this game and the energy you play with.’ So I wanted to show my teammates that even with an injury, I’m still that same guy.”
After Miami (8-15, 3-8 Mid-American Conference) had pulled to within six points in the first half, Kent State (14-11, 5-6) came out of a timeout with renewed vigor and went on an 18-2 run and never looked back. The Flashes led by 16 points at halftime before cruising to their third-consecutive home victory and their third win in the past four games.
In addition to Evans, guards Kris Brewer and Randal Holt chipped in 13 points each, center Mark Henniger matched his career-high with 11 points and forward Bryson Pope contributed 10 points.
Unlike KSU’s previous game Saturday against Central Michigan when the Flashes were hot from beyond the 3-point arc, they balanced their clutch offensive shots with key defensive stops Wednesday.
“We’re really trying to focus on the defensive end,” Evans said. “We’re not too worried about the offense because we’ve scored 80 points the last four games. So, scoring is not the problem for us. We want to commit ourselves to the defensive end and we did a great job of that tonight.”
Early in the first half, Evans joined teammate Dev Manley for a double team on Miami’s Quinten Rollins near the baseline, then snatched the ball from Rollins, spun around to his left and dunked it with both hands.
Immediately on the other end of the court, Evans joined his teammates to force the first of two shot-clock violations on Miami in the first 9:20 of play. Just before halftime, he swatted away a Miami shot from behind, sending the ball sailing into stands. Then for good measure, Evans opened the second half with two steals in the first minute and a half.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. 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.