Guard's return to floor is huge for Cavaliers
While the screw in the right foot of Virginia point guard Jontel Evans is permanent, his presence in the lineup has been anything but in this frustrating season of fits and starts coming off surgery to repair a stress fracture.
Evans' first attempt to rejoin the Virginia lineup in a November loss to Delaware lasted three minutes. His second attempt lasted three games. His third came Sunday night against North Carolina.
|Virginia at W. Forest|
|When » Wednesday, 9 p.m.|
|Where » L. Joel Coliseum,|
|TV » CSN|
After his performance in a 61-52 victory, the Cavaliers are hoping Evans is in the lineup to stay. The 5-foot-11 senior scored eight points and dealt six assists in 21 minutes, running the patient Virginia offense.
"He really slowed things down offensively," junior Joe Harris told reporters. "He came into the huddle and told us how he wanted to get the ball side-to-side and really wanted the defense to work."
For snail-paced Virginia (11-3, 1-0), controlling the flow was critical against rapid-fire North Carolina (10-4, 0-1). Tar Heels coach Roy Williams credited Evans.
"Jontel coming back in was big for them," Williams said. "We couldn't stop him from getting to the basket."
After a 30-day layoff, Evans came off the bench in the first half Sunday and provided an immediate reminder of his value. On his first possession, Evans fed freshman Teven Jones for a 3-pointer.
Shortly after Evans entered midway through the second half, Virginia took control. His pull-up jumper gave the Cavaliers the lead for good at 40-38. On Virginia's next two possessions, Evans fed freshman Evan Nolte for 3-pointers.
"It was just me getting out there, taking my time, going at my own pace," Evans said. "I feel like the other times when I returned I was rushing."
Virginia has been a different team with Evans on the floor. He helped the Cavaliers to consecutive victories over Wisconsin, Green Bay and Tennessee before reinjuring his foot and missing another month.
"He had two minor setbacks, and I think we've been real conservative with him," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said via teleconference Monday. "We're now at the three-month mark from his original surgery. We're at the point where you're not completely done healing but where you have what you have."
Evans' injury combined with the loss of sophomore Malcolm Brogdon (redshirt) had left Virginia thin at the point. The Cavaliers have had to make do with Jones (4.3 ppg, 2.3 apg) and freshman walk-on Taylor Barnette (2.4 ppg, 1.4 apg). While Jones has showed promise, the lack of experience has showed.
In a loss to Old Dominion, in which Virginia entered on an eight-game winning streak and ODU on a nine-game losing skid, the void was glaring as Monarchs guard Dimitri Batten scored a career-high 23 points.
Nights like that demonstrate how much Virginia needs Evans and why Bennett gets nervous when he talks to team doctor Ethan Saliba.
"Whenever he calls, I'm hoping he's just calling to tell me everything's OK or someone's got a cold," Bennett said. "I always kind of hold my breath."