The saga of Keenan Evans’ deliverance of Texas Tech basketball has been an Oscar-winning epic.
A 3-star prospect out of Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas, Evans has gone from unheralded roster-filler to trumpeted torchbearer. As a freshman in 2013-14, the Red Raiders won 13 games and just three in Big 12 play.
USA Today’s Josh Peter highlights how, as Evans’ role in the lineup swelled, so did Texas Tech’s win total:
He helped flip the script as the team’s starting point guard the next year, with the Red Raiders going 19-13 and making the NCAA tournament before losing to Butler in the first round.
Then his coach (Tubby Smith) left for Memphis, leaving him with Beard and uncertainty.
As a junior, though, Evans nearly doubled his scoring average, to 15.4 points per game, to go along with 3.0 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game. But Texas Tech finished 6-12 in the Big 12 and 18-14 overall.
Now in his final campaign, Evans has quietly been one of the country’s steady assassins. His 17.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game have guided Texas Tech to its first Sweet 16 berth since 2005. The Red Raiders were poised to dethrone Kansas for the Big 12 title until Evans went down with that dreaded toe injury.
The climax of Evans’ motion picture is unfolding. Even Chris Beard is dreading the ending.
“It is like when you go to a good movie and you know it’s getting toward the end, but you are loving the movie so much, you want it to go a little bit farther. Or you’ve got a good plate of enchiladas and you’re looking at it, and you only have two bites left, but it’s so good, you turn it into three bites,” Beard said.
Texas Tech’s rise has taken the Big 12, and the NCAA, by surprise. The Red Raiders’ presence in the Sweet 16 is the black rock that has no earthly business being there.
In his best Tim Robbins impression, Evans is summoning Red (Raider fans) — if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to go a little further.
Keenan Evans so far in the NCAA Tournament
The star point guard was electric in a first round war against Stephen F. Austin, tallying 23 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. He also took over down the last stretch of the game to deliver Texas Tech the win.
Then in the second round against Florida, Evans was once again a killer. He poured in 22 points to lead Texas Tech to its Sweet 16 berth.
Evan’s play in one of the maddest Marches has affirmed his elite status.
“This guy has willed himself into one of the best players in college basketball,” Beard said.
How far does that will go?
Keenan Evans and the Red Raiders face No. 2 seed Purdue in the Sweet 16 — the only Sweet 16 matchup that features two teams who haven’t pulled at least one upset in the NCAA Tournament.
Texas Tech will have to add itself to that list if it wants to earn a trip to the Elite Eight.
Battle-tested doesn’t even begin to describe Evans and Co. as the Red Raiders have had 18 games against NCAA Tournament teams this year — Seton Hall, Nevada, the first two rounds plus Big 12 play.
Evans appeared in 17 of those games and has averaged 21.2 points, nearly four points above his season average. He’s at his best under the brightest lights.
Purdue, meanwhile, has one of the nation’s best defenses. It ranks 20th nationally in scoring defense (65.4 ppg) and 27th in opponent shooting percentage (41.1). It’s Evans’ job to solve a puzzle only six teams have done all year.
The once-dark horse candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year is oozing with confidence.
“It’s amazing. I feel like words can’t really describe this journey with these guys,” Evans said, per the Associated Press. “Coach Beard came in and said he was going to win. And after last season, it was a disappointment, he told us we were going to get to this tournament next year. We were going to make a run. And he kept his word.”
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