After scoring 26 points in his first two games, including back-back 11-point outings, Evans had averaged just 1.7 points per game over his previous 17 outings, and had played less than 10 minutes in the last seven games.
Evans was considered a developmental project by recruiting coach Howard Moore when he came to Wisconsin before the 2008 season, but he's never used that as an excuse when it comes to playing college basketball.
"It's been a rough year for me, but (my coaches and my teammates) continue to believe in me," Evans said. "Something had to get me going."
Pick any number of things from a hat Tuesday night to explain what ignited the sophomore from Phoenix. Whether it was Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor continuing to bring the scoring production, scoring 24 and 15, respectively; Wquinton Smith getting into a minor tussle on the floor or the simple product of getting a shot to fall, Evans finally found the switch, helping No.19 Wisconsin to a key 13-3 that was vital in registering a 66-59 victory against No.11 Purdue.
Flip on the scouting tape on either one of the two conference's heavyweights meeting Tuesday night and the key was in the big two – Purdue's JaJuan Johnson and E'Twuan Moore (averaging 38.2 points per game) would face Wisconsin's Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor (averaging 36.6 points per game) – and who would get production from its supporting cast.
The three-minute second-half snapshot of UW's supporting cast from seniors Smith and Keaton Nankivil and Evans, a stretch that injected some needed life into a drab atmosphere, was the difference in that second-half run.
"There was no question that was the difference in the game what they added to us and the whole scheme," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Purdue can hurt you in a lot of ways."
Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3 Big Ten), allowing a conference best 58.9 points per conference game, was stuck on the tracks when the second half began with Purdue, averaging a conference best 74.8 points per conference game, making its first nine shots and engineering a 27-12 run to take a seven-point lead, its largest of the game, with 11:47 left.
Naturally, the run was led by Johnson (23 points) and Moore (15), which had led Purdue (18-5, 7-3) to a 61-9 record entering the night when they both reached double figures. Naturally, UW needed other players to kick in production wise when those flip the page. That came from Evans, whose 10 points single-handedly outscored Purdue's bench by seven.
"Jordan Taylor is a tough matchup, Jon Leuer is a tough matchup but I thought the difference was Gasser and Ryan Evans," said Purdue coach Matt Painter. "Those two guys stepped up and that's what you need. You need guys stepping up to give you a little more scoring punch."
The Kohl Center started to vibrate at the 9:59 mark when Taylor hit Evans for the dunk and really started to rumble after Smith got into a little tussle with Purdue junior Lewis Jackson. Smith was rewarded after Nankivil made his first basket, a three from the top of the key, when he drew a charge by sliding into the path of Moore.
"He's only out there for a few minutes sometimes, but he makes the most of it," freshman Josh Gasser said of Smith. "It gets you motivated and it passes on to other guys."
Throw in the fact that the public address announcer made it a point to further rile up the students by announcing class at the university was canceled with Nankivil rattling in a three from the top of the key to give UW a 51-49 advantage, it proved a vital sequence.
"That was a strategic placement of that announcement," Taylor quipped.
Although Johnson answered back with a 3-pointer of his own to give Purdue a 52-51 lead and a D.J. Byrd layup gave the Boilermakers a 59-58 lead with 1:11 remaining, Evans again was vital, hitting a 12-foot jumper with 50 seconds to give UW the lead back and tied up Moore on a drive to the bucket with 21 seconds left, forcing a jump ball and a change of possession in UW's favor.
"Those are the shots he can hit," Ryan said. "That's a very high percentage shot for him … It looks good coming through the bottom of the net, because that means it makes the scoreboard move."
Thanks to Taylor, Evans punctuated the victory after Moore missed a 3-pointer and Taylor passed in transition to Evans, who flushed a wide-open dunk for the final margin of victory.
"We've been talking all year long about how we have guys that people probably don't think twice about because they aren't the big names," Taylor said. "This was just a little show tonight of what Ryan can give."
After scoring 30 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half, Wisconsin held Purdue to 10 points in the final 10 minutes, keeping its streak of 38 straight home game, not counting overtime, that they've held their opponent under 70 points.
"It felt real good," Evans added, "and I hope it can continue."
Wisconsin started 6-for-20 from the floor and 0-for-6 from three, but the brave 9,739 souls that survived the winter onslaught had plenty to applaud thanks to the Badgers' defense, that attempted 13 more shots that Purdue as a result of forcing 10 Boilermakers turnovers, and the productivity of UW's two starting guards.
Gasser vanished last Saturday at Penn State, scoring only two points on four shots just six days after he registered the first triple-double in school history, but was the pulse of the Badgers' offense in an eight point, three rebound first half.
"I know I can hit some shots, and they just haven't been falling lately," Gasser said. "As long as I can get one or two down, it really helps my confidence and I hope that keeps going down the road."
Taylor didn't find his shot early, but scored the final five points, including a step-back 3-pointer with 25 seconds left, to score seven points and grab six rebounds.
"That was a big shot," Painter said. "A big momentum shot."
After the Badgers got out rebounded by four in Saturday's loss to Penn State, the effort to control the boards was evident from the start. As a result, Wisconsin out rebounded Purdue by seven and scored five more second-chance points off eight more offensive rebounds.
"It was a point of emphasis for us to get on the glass and get second-chance points," Leuer said. When we do that, we are at our best. We're so good at breaking defenses down with our cuts and the more opportunities that we get, the better."