BOGACZYK: Evans Changes Game, Finds New Success
The Word on the Herd-Dec. 18, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall basketball Coach Matt Daniel has a “new” player on his roster this season. She’s a junior, but she’s not a JUCO product or a Division I transfer.
In fact, she’s from only a few miles away from the Cam Henderson Center and she’s been on the Herd roster for the past two winters.
Meet Kiana Evans, the former Huntington High School scoring star, a two-time All-State pick who scored 1,237 career points in a Highlanders’ uniform before staying home for a Herd scholarship.
The Evans who has helped Marshall to a 7-1 start is averaging only 5.5 points per game. She’s the No. 7 scorer on the team, but she’s more than OK with that. The 6-foot Evans is the No. 2 rebounder (5.9 per game), and she has become more than a solid defender, too.
“Kiana has matured quite a bit, and obviously she wants to compete,” said Daniel, whose team entertains Norfolk State on Sunday afternoon. “She’s athletically gifted and she can do some things on the floor nobody else on our team can do.
“She’s been great rebounding for us and getting the ball to the basket. She also guards the other team’s best player.”
She’s also a starter after two seasons. In eight games, Evans has played 184 minutes. In her first two MU seasons combined, she was on the floor for only 181. Her 44 points are three shy of her freshman and sophomore combined total.
“It feels good just to play to my potential and play the way I knew I could play,” said Evans, who in Thursday’s victory over St. Francis (Pa.), didn’t get her lone field goal until 5:37 to play in the game. “When I’m on the floor, I play my hardest at all times just because two years were wasted and I’m ready to push it these next two years.”
“I needed to grow into college basketball and understand what my role really was,” said Evans, 20. “In high school, I could score 20 a night – any given night. But here, it was more that I needed to play defense and do the little things, hustle plays.
“It’s not all about scoring for me now. I had to grow into that, understand that and get that in my mind and finally, it’s happened.”
She said her history as a scorer is history.
“I just don’t worry about it,” she said of the mindset adjustment. “I just get my teammates involved first, because if my teammates are involved, I feel more involved. I just leave it out there on defense and put my offense second now.”
Asked if she considered giving up the game during her two seasons of diminished play, Evans responded, “Uh, um … yes, at times, but I pushed through it.”
In the Thursday win, Evans had a career-high nine rebounds. “I wanted 10,” she said. “If I’d have gotten that last one, I’d have had 10.”
She also had the defensive assignment on SFU star Jessica Kovatch, who was averaging 23.0 points per game. Kovatch finished with 19 of a 7-of-16 day. In the previous outing – the Herd’s lone loss, to West Virginia – Evans defended WVU star Bria Holmes into a 4-for-12 afternoon.
“That’s just the matchup she’s going to get game-in, game-out,” Daniel said. “Kiana gives them trouble because of her length, and she’s done a great job so far. She’s long and athletic and bouncy, and that’s certainly helpful.
“And she’s stronger physically and mentally … and emotionally. And I think all those things combined have created the player that we want her to be. And she’s a great person.”
Evans said she’s learned to take responsibility for an opponent’s line in a boxscore.
“I’m trying to limit their points,” she said of taking on the top defensive assignment. “Like (Kovatch), she’s going to make shots, but just limit the number of shots she takes, and make the shots she does take tougher. Don’t give her easy shots; put a hand in her face, make it tougher for her to knock it down. Holmes, I couldn’t leave her side or it was going to be trouble, so stay by her side. She can do it all, so with somebody like that, it’s about trying to limit her touches.”
In high school, Evans played in a 2-3 zone until her senior season. She said help defense was foreign to her, but Daniel saw her potential as a high-level defender because of Evans’ athleticism and longer wingspan. Those also help inside.
Evans said the strength part of it was definitely a factor when she established her role this preseason, fitting in with Daniel’s starting lineup from Day 1 – a preseason scrimmage at Youngstown State.
“Getting stronger was big, very big,” the wiry Evans said. “I came in about 115 (pounds). I was really skin and bones. Now, I’m about 145. Lifting … I didn’t lift at all in high school. I couldn’t even lift the bar when I came here. I barely could lift the bar and I max out now about 105.”
Evans said it has been a plus that one of her elders in HHS hoops – Herd redshirt senior post player Talequia Hamilton – transferred in from Cincinnati in 2013-14, the same season Evans was joining the Herd.
“Having Talequia here helped a lot,” Evans said. “I played with her in high school and we’re really close and we push each other just to be our best because we know how we played in high school and know the potential we have to play the game.”
Evans also has three Herd teammates who were with her on the 2012-13 Class AAA All-State team in junior McKenzie Akers of Princeton and freshmen Shayna Gore of Logan and Maddie Morris of Spring Valley.
Evans was buoyed by Daniel’s confidence in her in the preseason. That helped her be a difference-maker, too.
“That first scrimmage, we’ve had the same lineup since then,” said Evans, who has a 3.09 GPA and is majoring in health care management. “We went to Youngstown, and it was real exciting for me. I had been thinking I was going to start all along.
“That was my mindset, because I had to have a mindset like that to help me. So, when I started that game, my thought was to just take one step at a time, play my game, don’t try to force shots.”
Evans only had the chance to take 54 shots in 35 games in her first two college seasons. It’s tough to shoot from deep on the bench, but now she’s still only averaging about six shots per game as a starter.
Daniel said Evans has become the player he hoped for when he recruited her from the neighborhood.
“I wasn’t disappointed,” Daniel said of Evans’ first two seasons. “I’m only disappointed in them behaviorally. Their maturation is different for every person that comes along. If I get disappointed, it’s over behavior or deception or lack of effort.
“One of the things I challenged Kiana on was her competitiveness and she’s flipped that. And she’s benefitted and so has our team.”