With his team trudging its way through the first half, Evans' mini 6-0 run – which included two made free throws – helped Wisconsin close the first half on a 13-2 run, take its first lead of game and never lose it in a 65-54 victory over Green Bay Wednesday at the Kohl Center.
Evans scored a team-high 13 points to help Wisconsin (7-4) rebound from a disappointing 10-point loss at Marquette Saturday in which Evans' free throw shooting, or lack thereof, took the brunt of the blame.
A career 71 percent free throw shooter, Evans entered the week shooting only 31.8 percent from the line. Brushing off the topic most of the season, it came to a peak Saturday when Evans shot 1-for-9 from the line and was seen practicing his delivery with assistant coach Gary Close Monday morning in a dimly lit Kohl Center.
It became such a point of conversation that when Evans was fouled hard on a baseline drive, the crowd held its collective breath for the spectacle that was to come. After his first attempt rattled around the rim before dropping, the crowd erupted. When he swished his second attempt, the decibel level got even louder.
Ironically, the energy seemed to give the Badgers the life it had been sorely missing in another brutal-looking first half.
"I am just taking it one step at a time; I think I increased my average with 50 percent performance tonight," said Evans, who actually raised his average 2.2 percentage points to 34.0. "The crowd and my teammates are going to pull me out of this slump that I am in."
Evans did more than score. After his sixth straight point on a layup cut the lead to 21-20, Evans blocked forward Greg Mays on a baseline jumper and fed the ball to a driving Jared Berggren (10 points) two possession later, resulting in a thundering one-handed that gave UW its first lead of the game with 2:48 remaining.
"(Evans) was really putting his nose on the ball," said UW coach Bo Ryan, who improved to 28-6 (.824) in the in-state round robin with Marquette, Milwaukee and Green Bay. "He gave us more good, even though he didn't make a couple of those free throws. He did us more good overall."
When Wisconsin found its rhythm offensively, it harnessed its aggression on defense. After Green Bay (3-6) shot 50 percent through the first 16:30, the Phoenix missed their final five shots on their final six possessions, which also included two turnovers.
Coincidentally, that drop in production came when leading scorer Keifer Sykes left the game with his second foul and six points.
"Once you dig yourself a hole against a Wisconsin team, a coached team by Bo Ryan, down 10 or 12 points, it's hard," said Green Bay coach Brian Wardle. "You have to chip away slowly, but that 10 points sometimes feels like it's 20.
"Against other teams, you feel like you can get right back in it but against them, they work the clock, they're patient, they take their time and we had way too many defensive breakdowns to make a run."
Sykes led all scorers with 14 points. Brennan Cougill registered 12 points and 12 rebounds and Alec Brown added eight, but both scorers were held to 3-for-11 shooting. In 10 games at the Kohl Center in the Ryan era, Green Bay's point total has never risen above 62 points.
"We know what we are capable of as a team and we know that we can play better than what we've shown to this point in the season," said Berggren. "There are signs of what we are capable of. Once we get that consistency down a little better, get a little more experience, get to know each other a little better, we'll get on a roll."
Sam Dekker – making his second straight start for senior Mike Bruesewitz (concussion) – added 10 points, opened the second half with a three-pointer and delivered a perfect alley-oop pass to Evans for a dunk that started Wisconsin on an 18-4 run in the opening seven minutes. That run pushed the UW lead to its biggest of the game at 15.
After scoring only two points on its first 10 possessions of the first half, Wisconsin scored 18 points in the same amount of possession in the second half, as the Badgers shot 56.1 percent (23-for-41) after its ugly 1-for-10 start.
"(Berggren) said right before the second half started, ‘We got to win these first four minutes and just hit them right away,'" said Dekker. "I think that's what we did. We got some stuff going to the hoop, some good ball swings for some open shots. When we play with that energy and passion, good things are going to happen."
With Dekker no longer coming off the bench, Wisconsin found its bench spark from different sources. After checking in for Traevon Jackson early in the first half, freshman George Marshall hit three-pointers on two of UW's first three possessions to pick UW off the floor.
Afterwards, Evans admitted that Marshall's play was the thing that sparked him on his run.
"George really sparked me," said Evans, "and I guess Coach Ryan lit something underneath."
In the second half, Zak Showalter added six points, three rebounds, two assists and no turnovers, as Wisconsin's bench scored 22 points (seven more than Saturday).
"He's really given us a shot in the arm," said Ryan of Showalter.
After Wisconsin ended a four-game, 10-day stretch with a 2-2 record Saturday, the Badgers will get 10 days off over final exams before playing the last leg of their in-state round robin against Milwaukee.
"It's a chance to regroup, maintain that focus that we had and get ready to push forward into the Big Ten season," said Evans. "It's not how you start, it's how you finish."