Evans, Texas Tech to Sweet 16 after win over Florida
DALLAS — Keenan Evans treats every game like senior night and is doing all he can to keep playing for Texas Tech.
Next stop: Sweet 16.
“Once you get to this point, it’s just like, man, I’m not ready for it to end,” Evans said. “And here we are getting another week to prepare and play the game we love.”
Evans scored 22 points, making the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 2 ½ minutes before his alley-oop pass on the punctuating dunk, as third-seeded Texas Tech beat Florida 69-66 on Saturday night in the NCAA Tournament.
The Red Raiders, in their second year with head coach Chris Beard, are going into the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2005.
“It’s amazing. I feel like words can’t really describe this journey with these guys,” Evans said. “Coach Beard came in and said he was going to win. And after last season, it was a disappointment, he told us we were going to get to this tournament next year. We were going to make a run. And he kept his word.”
While the next loss will end All-Big 12 guard Evans’ career, high-flying freshman Zhaire Smith is just getting started.
Smith had 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and was on the receiving end of an alley-oop pass with 29 seconds left that punched the ticket for the Red Raiders (26-9) to go to Boston to play Purdue or Butler next Friday night in the East Region.
“He has no ceiling,” Evans said of Smith.
Chris Chiozza did go the length of the court for a Florida layup with 25 seconds left before Evans lost the ball when trying to fight through a double-team after the inbound pass.
The Gators gathered the ball after a wild scramble. Egor Koulechov and KeVaughn Allen both had 3-point attempts in the final 10 seconds that came up short.
Florida (21-13) fell short of the Sweet 16 — and the Elite Eight — for the first time in their last six NCAA Tournament appearances. The last time they didn’t make it to the Sweet 16 was in 2010, when the SEC team lost a first-round game to BYU.
Texas Tech quickly erased a five-point deficit midway through the second half with nine straight points. Evans scored seven of those, and Smith — wo had a 360-spin alley-oop dunk from Evans in the tourney opener Thursday — delivered a follow-up slam.
Evans drove the baseline for a reverse layup put the Red Raiders up 51-50. After Smith’s slam, Evans had a nifty spin move for a jumper and then added a three-point play after that.
“We didn’t load to Keenan Evans a couple times when we needed that, at least a couple times. He got to the rim too much,” Florida coach Mike White said. “It’s very difficult to contain him. He’s big. He’s strong. He’s physical. And he’s got a really explosive first step.”
Jarrett Culver, the hometown freshman for Texas Tech, had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Texas Tech hasn’t been to the Sweet 16 since Beard was an assistant coach for Bobby Knight. But this is only the third NCAA appearance since for the Red Raiders.
After his time coaching on Knight’s staff, and then for Pat Knight, Beard left Tech for more than a decade before coming back two years ago when Tubby Smith left for Memphis.
“A lot of work went into this, but we’re just getting started,” Beard said. “I told the guys before this ever started … after the selection show, I was like, look, there’s 68 teams in the tournament. A lot of the teams will just show up to be a part of it, and it’ll overwhelm them.”
Not these Red Raiders.
Chiozza was limited to 27 minutes in his 139th and final game for the Gators because of foul trouble. He made his first three shots, and had three assists, in his first 10 minutes. He then missed eight straight shots until the final basket, and didn’t have another assist. He leaves Florida as the school career leader with 364 assists. He had 14 in two NCAA tourney games in Dallas.
Just weeks before returning to Lubbock, after briefly holding the UNLV job, Beard’s Arkansas-Little Rock team upset Purdue in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament as part of 30 wins in his only season there.
The Boilermakers, who play Sunday night for a chance to get to the Sweet 16, surely remember that.
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