CLEVELAND — The final minutes of UB’s MAC Tournament quarterfinal against Kent State left the Bulls in dire need of a stop. Someone needed to get a handle on Chris Evans. The Golden Flashes’ all-conference forward was killing them.
UB had no answers. Stopping Evans was out of the question. He took it to them time and again, carrying Kent State down the stretch, over the finish line and to a 70-68 victory good for a semifinal matchup with top-seeded Akron tonight.
Evans, a 6-foot-8 senior, was a show unto himself over the final five minutes, scoring six of Kent’s last 10 points and 10 of the last 14 en route to a 25-point night. He nailed a tough baseline jumper to tie the score at 58. He meshed another mid-range jumper with the shot clock nearing zero for a 64-61 advantage with 2:18 to play. That was followed by a dazzling scoop shot off a drive that pushed the lead to five and left UB little time to counter.
“I definitely had the mindset to attack the rim and I was able to get in the lane and finish and create plays for others as well. So I definitely had the mindset to attack more in the second half,” Evans said.
“I think more than anything it’s him willing his team,” said UB coach Reggie Witherspoon. “He really displayed that tonight and he’s a tough matchup. You can’t stay with a perimeter on him the whole game because he’ll fatigue and he has the size like an NBA wing player. And we knew that. And because of that we needed to shoot it better and we needed to rebound it better.”
While Evans flourished down the stretch, Kent State limited the opportunities for UB’s own all-conference forward, junior Javon McCrea. Immediate double- and triple-teams pushed McCrea away from the low post and forced him to create from up top. He scored 20 points but the last of those came with 4:20 to play on a tip-in of his own miss.
“That’s what some of the teams usually do, when I get it in the post they crowd me so I was taking my time and trying to step out a bit,” McCrea said.
One of UB’s main concerns coming in was the perimeter shooting of Randal Holt. Kent State’s senior guard had tormented them from behind the arc in the previous two meetings, going 11 of 14. Holt had 17 points but managed only two threes as UB senior Tony Watson, playing all 40 minutes again, kept him in relative check.
“I took it upon myself and challenged myself that I wasn’t going to let Holt get comfortable the entire game,” said Watson, who scored a team-high 23 points and also had 11 of UB’s 30 rebounds.
“Tony was phenomenal,” Witherspoon said. “This was his second double-double where he’s had 11 rebounds and who would think that. There’s been a lot of games where he’s had to play 40 minutes here lately.”
The second half see-sawed. Will Regan (14 points) scored the first six of the half for a 38-30 UB advantage.
“I was worried,” Kent State coach Rob Senderoff said. “As the game goes on you do worry maybe it’s going to get away from you. It was one of those where you never felt comfortable.”
Fourth-seeded Kent (20-12) came back to lead, 53-49, on the strength of an 11-2 run that Evans opened and ended with a three-point play off a fast-break layup. UB (14-20) moved back on top with a five-point spurt initiated by a Jarryn Skeete three from the wing and followed by a McCrea jumper from 17 feet. That gave the Bulls a 54-53 lead with 8:27 on the clock.
Again, Kent countered as Holt hit an open three for a 56-54 edge. That’s when UB started working the inside. Regan made a layup off a McCrea feed. McCrea made a pair of free throws and tipped in his own shot. But Evans kept the Flashes in business and it was 60-60 with 3:31 remaining.
This was the third meeting of the season and the third time Kent emerged in a game close into the final minutes. The Golden Flashes won the last meeting in overtime on a buzzer-beating jumper off a drive by Evans, a precursor of what was to come in the tournament.
UB played much of the year undermanned. Starting point guard Jarod Oldham fractured his wrist in mid-December and is hoping for a medical redshirt. Recruit Stan Weir redshirted after undergoing offseason procedures on his knees. That left the Bulls extremely thin in the backcourt and it could have been an exceedingly painful season had freshman Jarryn Skeete not stepped in competently for Oldham.
The lack of depth made a deep tournament run a difficult challenge for the eighth-seeded Bulls. They were playing their third game in four nights after beating Central Michigan in Monday’s first round and ousting favored Ball State in Wednesday’s second round.