Evans puts on show in victory over Boilermakers
But on a night when a blizzard turned the University of Wisconsin campus into a snow globe, it was Wisconsin’s lone Arizona native that stole the spotlight in the 66-59 victory over Purdue.
Sophomore swingman Ryan Evans delivered by far his best performance of the season, and one that ranks right up there among the best in his young career.
Something seemed to spark Evans on the night, as he continued to improve as the game went along. When asked about it, he attributed his energy to teammate Wquinton Smith and UW Chancellor Biddy Martin.
“It’s been a rough year for me,” Evans said. “But [my coaches and teammates] continuing to believe in me, I knew that something had to get me going. I think one of the big things in the second half was Q — Q got in a little toss up with [Lewis] Jackson — and Biddy, I don’t know if Biddy’s in here but Biddy announcing that we don’t have school tomorrow, that got the fans going some.
“It felt real good, and hopefully I just can continue.”
Evans shot 5-of-9 on the night for 10 points — his fifth career double-digit performance and first of the season — while grabbing one rebound and one steal. But the numbers on the box score hardly do Evans’ performance justice.
After scoring four points in nine first-half minutes, Evans hit three of the biggest shots of the night in the second half.
With his team trailing by six with 10 minutes to go, Evans slammed home a lob from Taylor, electrifying the crowd and completely changing the momentum of the game. But that dunk was only the beginning.
“Any time you can get a guy who can get the crowd off its feet like Ryan can — that dunk was big,” Taylor said. “It was probably almost perfect timing. It couldn’t get any better than that, it got the crowd back into it.”
With the crowd back behind them, the Badgers battled the Boilermakers in a back-and-forth game over the final 10 minutes, with a handful of plays by Evans putting Wisconsin over the top.
In the final minute, as UW trailed by one following a layup by Purdue guard D.J. Byrd, Evans got the ball just inside the lane and without hesitation, pulled up for the two-point jumper. As it went through with 50 seconds remaining, Evans gave the Badgers the lead back, and one they would not relinquish.
“Those are the shots that he can hit,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “That’s a very high percentage shot for him. So it wasn’t a surprise. If you look at the baskets he made last year, those are the types of shots that he shoots a very high percentage on.
“Looks good coming through the bottom of the net, because that means it makes the scoreboard move.”
With two big second half shots to his credit, Evans had more than done his part, especially considering he entered the game averaging just 2.7 points per game on the year and 0.8 points per contest in Big Ten play. But he still was not done.
After a Josh Gasser free throw gave Wisconsin a four-point lead with 31 seconds to play, Evans took the ball away from E’Twaun Moore on the other end. Evans’ steal set up a pair of Taylor free throws, which all but sealed the deal.
Finally, in a fitting end that he could not have scripted better himself, Evans delivered the game’s final points to give the Badgers the 66-59 victory.
Following a long rebound off a Moore missed three, Taylor found Evans streaking to the basket all alone. Once again, the crowd erupted as Evans threw down an emphatic breakaway dunk.
“We’ve been talking all year round about how we have guys that people might not think twice about just because they might not be the big names,” Taylor said. “Ryan, we’ve been saying what he can give to this team all year long. It was just a little show tonight, he can probably even add from there.”