The Kent State basketball team arrived in Mount Pleasant, Mich., on Sunday evening with two days to prepare for a game tonight against host Central Michigan. The Golden Flashes took a couple of hours out of their study hall and practice road scheduling for a little team-building fun.
That meant a Monday afternoon of bowling, as the players and coaches split into three groups of four and went head-to-head on the lanes for two hours.
“It was a fun experience, but bowling’s not really my thing,” junior forward Chris Evans said. “When I first saw it on the schedule, I thought, ‘Man, I hope I don’t make my team lose.’ But some of the guys were really good. [Senior point guard] Mike P. [Porrini] surprised me with how good he was.”
The outing proved to be a much-needed mental break for the Flashes, who appear to have righted themselves with back-to-back wins over Northern Illinois and Toledo last week after back-to-back road losses the previous week.
“For the last two games I like how we’ve played,” Flashes coach Rob Senderoff said. “We’ve competed, we’ve shared the ball and most importantly, we’ve gotten the emphasis back on the defensive side of the floor, which, to me, is the most important thing.”
One of the major reasons Kent State (14-6, 4-3 in the Mid-American Conference) appears to have gotten back on track is the offensive and defensive play of Evans. More than just a spark off the bench, he has been the best player on the court in the past five games.
The 6-foot-7 Evans, the team’s best dunker, was named the MAC East Player of the Week on Monday after averaging 18.5 points and shooting 83 percent from the field (15-for-18) in last week’s wins. But that’s not all. He also averaged 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 2.0 blocks, and 2.5 steals per game while giving the Flashes a plus-45 scoring advantage while on the court.
“It’s just become natural for me to fill a high-intensity, defensive role on the team,” Evans said. “That’s my role now, to be a defensive spark when I come in the game. The defense leads to my offense, as I look to prove I’m not just a one-sided player.”
Evans’ performance last week is part of a recent five-game streak in which he has averaged a team-best 15.6 points and shot 73 percent, including a career-high 23 points (9-for-10 field goals), six rebounds, four steals and three assists against the Rockets.
Despite how many areas in which Evans has had an impact on the Flashes’ victories, it’s his high-flying dunks that get fans and teammates riled up the most. Evans has displayed quite an array of highlight-reel worthy slams this season, from the typical two-hand slam to the more difficult reverse and windmill types.
Although Evans doesn’t work on his dunks during practice, his teammates do request certain techniques before games.
“My teammates always say what kind of dunk they want me to do,” Evans said. “I like doing it for them because they get more excited about it than I do. I like to see their reaction and then feed off how excited they get.”
For the record, Evans’ favorite dunk this season came during the Flashes’ 70-60 November upset at West Virginia, in which he converted a half-court pass from guard Randal Holt into a three-point play after being fouled on the slam.
“As fun as it is, I don’t just want to be known for dunking,” Evans said. “I want to be known for being multi-dimensional, for running the floor and helping my team get better.”
Entering tonight’s game, the Chippewas (7-13, 2-5) are looking to break a five-game losing streak. They are led by coach Ernie Zeigler’s son, sophomore guard Trey Zeigler (16.1 points and 7.0 rebounds per game).
Meanwhile, the Flashes are coming off their third consecutive game in which they’ve scored at least 75 points, with senior forward Justin Greene (15.9 ppg) and Holt (13.7 ppg) combining as the highest scoring duo during MAC play this season.
Kent State will play the College of Charleston in a BracketBusters game Feb. 18 at the M.A.C. Center.
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