For Jontel Evans, immediate challenge lies in maintaining focus
With just less than eight minutes remaining in the first half of Wednesday's 70-67 loss at Boston College, Virginia sophomore guard Jontel Evans made a jump shot to cut the Cavaliers' deficit to three. At that point, Evans already had made 3 of 6 field goal attempts on the night. It looked as if he was primed to be a significant offensive contributor the rest of way against the Eagles.
Evans has not made a shot from the field since. He missed his final eight field goal attempts Wednesday and all three of them Saturday in a 72-64 win over Georgia Tech. Perhaps most alarming is that many of his misses have come from very close range following a drive to the basket.
Following Wednesday's defeat, Evans stood in the visiting locker room with watery eyes and his nylon jacket zipped all the way up so that its neck covered the bottom of his chin. He was accountable for his poor shot selection and for not finding his open teammates more often, and that was admirable.
The looming question was how such a performance would affect him moving forward.
On Saturday, a carry-over effect was noticeable. Reverting to the opposite extreme of where he played Wednesday -- when he attempted a career-high 14 shots -- Evans was extremely judicious in pulling the trigger. During the first half he seemed downright timid on the offensive end.
After "the Boston College game, I really beat myself up," Evans said after Saturday's contest. "I really felt like I was one of the main reasons that we lost. I put it on myself and my teammates and coaches said you shouldn't do that, but that's the type of player I am. The Boston College game, I felt like my shot selection was horrible. It was times when I got to the paint and tried to shoot over three people when I could have just made an easy play and kicked it out to a shooter."
Evans is an incredibly quick player who prides himself in his ability to hound opposing players on defense. So maybe some of the silly mistakes he made on that end of the court Saturday were a byproduct of his desire to reconcile his offensive struggles. With 2.6 seconds remaining in the first half and Virginia leading Georgia Tech by six, Evans fouled Yellow Jackets guard Iman Shumpert.
It was Virginia's seventh foul of the half, meaning Shumpert would go to the free throw line to shoot a one-and-one. He made them both. To say that Coach Tony Bennett was furious with Evans would be an understatement. Bennett said he addressed the issue with Evans on the court -- which everyone who was paying attention at John Paul Jones Arena witnessed -- and again in the locker room at halftime.
Later in the game, Evans was involved in a brief confrontation that resulted in a double technical foul on him and Georgia Tech guard Maurice Miller. He also at one point in the second half hit himself in the forehead with the ball as he attempted to shoot a free throw.
His final stat line from Saturday: 0 for 3 from the field, 3 for 6 from the free throw line, three points, five assists, two rebounds, two steals, two turnovers and three personal fouls.
Evans is shooting 20 percent from the field (5 for 25) in Virginia's past three games.
"I'm the type of player, I put a lot of pressure on myself," Evans said Saturday. "When I miss easy shots like that, it's frustrating. I've worked all summer on knocking those shots down, and so when I get in the game and I miss a couple it starts messing with me. But I just have to get over that. I'm a Division I player. I just have to go back and keep working on it. Some guys have slumps on offense, so I've just got to keep working and keep getting after it."
One of Evans's greatest assets can be the emotion with which he plays. But there are times when his emotion controls his actions and clouds his judgement. For the Cavaliers, who are relying on Evans as their primary point guard, this could prove problematic.
They need Evans to be feisty on defense, and they need him to penetrate into the lane to help free up perimeter shooters. But they also need him to be focused. For Virginia to play at its best, Evans can't play with the mind-set he displayed Wednesday against Boston College, nor can he play with the approach he took in Saturday's game against Georgia Tech.
Although it's much easier said than done, Evans has to find a way to keep his recent offensive struggles out of his head. He has to refind the middle ground that made him so effective and such a valuable on-court presence earlier this season.
Evans displayed improvement Saturday, but he acknowledged afterward that that improvement was relative.
"I felt like my decision-making was better today," Evans said. "But it should be even better."
| January 25, 2011; 10:17 AM ET
Categories: Men's Basketball
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