By Ken Cross
Texas Tech guard Keenan Evans was playing in another atmosphere in Saturday’s 70-63 win over South Carolina in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. He was able to score off the three-point line and off the dribble in scoring 31 points, 10 in the last 3:18 to secure the win.
Evans gave the No. 14 Red Raiders separation in the final minutes as he scored on a layup and converted a free throw, pushing Texas Tech to a 65-61 lead with 47 seconds remaining.
“We just grouped up and kept our composure,” said Evans, “I wasn’t aggressive in games we lost to Texas and Iowa State. We just all got together and played as one.”
After trailing throughout, South Carolina finally forged ahead at 42-41 on a three-point shot by Frank Booker with 12:29 to go. The Gamecocks answered Texas Tech on three occasions to moved their lead back to four before Felipe Haase gave them their biggest lead at 58-53 with 6:17 left.
“We are both aggressive teams and us going against each other in practice got us ready,” said Evans, “We knew it was going to be a hard fought game.”
Evans immediately answered that triple with one on the next possession. The Red Raiders’ defense then locked in and only allowed the one triple from Booker over the final six minutes. It held South Carolina to 2-of-9 from the field and only two turnovers to finish the contest.
“They’re good defensively,” said Gamecocks coach Frank Martin, “You don’t go into Kansas and win by 15 because you got lucky. Teams know we are going to throw it into Chris. I thought we did a better job in the second half. Their athleticism and toughness bothered us early and it bothered us late.”
Evans scored those 31 points in 35 minutes as he hit four triples and went 13-of-13 from the line. He broke down the Gamecocks’ guards off the dribble, but his three-ball game in the second half was clutch.
“We were fortunate tonight because we had some really what I call ‘stale’ possessions, and then we had Keenan make some plays,” said Red Raiders coach Chris Beard, “He’s put the Superman cape on a few times.”
Evans sparked Texas Tech in the first half as they built a lead by as much as eight at 25-17 before South Carolina hit a 9-2 run to close to 27-26 on a Frank Booker triple with 30 seconds to go. The Gamecocks’ Justin Minaya fouled Evans on a three-point attempt with one second remaining in the half. Evans netted all three free throws in a quick momentum change to end the half.
“We got great production from out interior guys,” explained Beard, “We have three bigs and we kind of look at their 40 minutes together Tonight had 18 points and 10 boards from Tommy (Hamilton), Norense (Odiase), and Malik (Ondigo). When we get guard play like we did from Keenan and then play from our bigs by committee, we are a pretty good team.”
The Gamecocks fell to 13-8 while still sporting a 4-4 SEC mark with Mississippi State coming to Columbia on Wednesday. The Red Raiders are 17-4 and 5-3 in the Big 12 as they rematch with Texas in Lubbock on Wednesday as well.