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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
Chris Evans has done absolutely everything for the Kent State men's basketball team this season and during his hoops career but hit a game-winning shot at the buzzer.
You can cross that off his bucket list.
The do-it-all senior star kissed a soft baseline runner off the glass at the buzzer to give the Golden Flashes (16-12, 6-7 Mid-American Conference) a stunning 83-81 come-from-behind overtime victory over Buffalo (11-17, 6-7) Wednesday night at the M.A.C. Center that completes a regular-season sweep of the Bulls.
Just moments after Buffalo senior guard Tony Watson drained a 3-pointer as he was fouled, but missed the free throw to leave the contest tied at 81, Evans rebounded the miss with 19 seconds remaining. He let the clock tick down, made his move to the right with about five seconds to go, took on three defenders and still managed to create enough space to kiss the game-winner off the glass.
"Once I got the ball, I knew I was gonna try to take the last shot," said Evans. "He ran up on me and tried to pressure me, and I was able to go around him and bank it off the glass."
"He" could have been any of the three defenders Buffalo rushed at Evans in a futile attempt to keep him from driving, including 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior forward Javon McCrea.
"They hit an incredibly difficult shot in OT," said veteran Bulls coach Reggie Witherspoon. "Just a great play by Evans."
After the shot went in, the pent-up frustration from losing five MAC games that could have gone either way in the final two minutes came rushing out of the Flashes.
Evans took off in a sprint to the opposite end of the floor and was eventually mobbed by teammates in the opposite tunnel after his teammates finally were able to catch him.
"Chris took off," smiled KSU senior Randal Holt. "He didn't want us to catch him."
"It's my first (game-winner), so it's definitely a great feeling," said Evans. "Especially the reaction from the crowd and when your teammates rush out there, that's the best feeling. Even better than when the ball goes in."
Evans actually stayed in the shadows for much of the game, while senior teammate Randal Holt and McCrea went head-to-head. Holt scored a career-high 28 points, while McCrea nearly bulldozed his way to a triple-double with 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks.
Kent State junior forward Darren Goodson finished with 18 points and seven rebounds, while leading scorer and rebounder Evans chipped in a modest 14 points and eight boards with four assists, helping his team win the battle of the boards against a much more physical Bulls squad 46-38.
In the end, this unlikely Flashes victory was actually all about zones.
I. The zone Holt found himself in throughout the night. Kent State's lone returning starter scored a career-high 28 points, including 14 in the first half to keep his team in striking range, and drained 6-of-9 3-pointers on the night.
"I just came out aggressive tonight," said Holt. "I saw we really didn't have it going on the offensive end (in the first half), so I just tried to take and make good shots -- not force anything, just take what the defense gave me. Open looks came for me tonight."
II. The zone defense the Flashes switched to early in the second half. Buffalo had exposed the Golden Flashes' glaring lack of a physical presence in the paint to the fullest extent, as McCrea and 6-9, 260-pound junior Cameron Downing (13 points, 5 rebounds) were having their way inside to say the least.
"That (switch to a zone) was huge for us," said KSU head coach Rob Senderoff. "When we went up there we played a lot of zone out of necessity because everyone was in foul trouble. Tonight we played it again out of necessity, but a different type of necessity. We couldn't stop them in man and we needed to try to find something different to make it harder for McCrea to get the ball."
III. And finally, the twilight zone Kent State junior Melvin Tabb finally escaped from. Tabb, a junior college transfer who had been shutout in three of the last four games and scored just eight total points in the last seven contests, spearheaded the Flashes' comeback from a 12-point second-half by producing 12 points and five rebounds after sitting out the entire first half.
"I guess I haven't played up to my potential for a while now, and (my teammates) always stay with me and always get on my case," said Tabb. "I kind of let them down, and I just got frustrated on the bench. (Assistant coach DeAndre) Haynes pulled me aside and talked to me, and said we need you to play big, and it happened. I changed my mentality and I started attacking."
It seems like an eternity since Tabb put 20 points and 14 rebounds on Xavier on Dec. 9, as Tabb has barely been heard from since.
"Welcome to the party Melvin," said Senderoff. "We started him in the second half because (other guys) hand't played well in the first half. We're down nine and just trying to get a spark. I'm really proud of how he played because I think he gave us that spark. Just his energy, how he came out in the second half, really energized our team."
After an 11-4 run to close the first half put Buffalo up 41-32 at halftime, the Bulls pushed the lead to 53-41 with 15:40 left in regulation following a McCrea layup. The Flashes switched to a zone moments later, and it served its purpose, cooling off the Bulls at least to some extent.
Still, every time Kent State would make a run, Buffalo had an answer until the Flashes made one last successful push in the final five minutes of regulation.
Trailing 70-65, Goodson converted a three-point play then buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to tie it up at 71 with 2:01 to play. Holt answered a putback by McCrea with a pair of free throws, then had a chance to win it but lost the ball while attempting to split a double-team with four seconds left in regulation. Bulls freshman guard Jarryn Skeete (14 points) raced down the floor and had a good look at a shot to win it, but his runner off the glass bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
Back-to-back 3s by Evans and Holt seemed to put Kent State in control in the extra session, up 81-76 with 1:19 left. But McCrea scored, and KSU sophomore point guard Kris Brewer missed the front end of a one-and-one to set the stage for Evans.
"Chris is a geat player," said Senderoff. "He's as new to this as a lot of our guys are in that it's his second year with us, and last year he averaged nine points and 20 minutes a game. It's not like this is somebody that's been in this position a lot at this level. Today he fought through the first half, when he really didn't play well. He got jumped at halftime and he responded very well, which sometimes with him he doesn't respond great."
"It's kind of amazing how the basketball gods work for you," Holt added. "We're out there playing hard, making the right plays, then all of a sudden Chris makes a great shot for us to win the game."
McCrea and the Bulls have to be wondering about those basketball gods. He has now amassed 65 points and 25 rebounds in two games against the Flashes, both losses, and Buffalo is now 0-16 all-time at the M.A.C. Center.
But Senderoff wasn't apologizing afterward.
"Our kids certainly deserved, in my eyes at least, for one of these close games to go our way," said Senderoff, whose squad finished 5-2 in February. "I'm very proud of the guys for finding a way to win."
Kent State will visit Miami (8-18, 3-10) on Saturday.