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Evans’ excellent evening sparks Illinois State win

The early-season game plan for Illinois State is quickly becoming apparent. Just give Keyshawn Evans the ball.

That might be simplifying things a bit, though there is no doubt that Evans is going to be one of the keys for the Redbirds offense this season. That was evident Sunday, as Evans went 10-for-13 from the field – including 6-for-6 from 3-point range – and scored 29 points in leading Illinois State past Tulsa 84-68 in the final round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off at Myrtle Beach.

Evans scored a total of 67 points over Illinois State’s three games in the tournament, tying him for the seventh-best scoring output in the 11-year history of the PRTO. In addition, the junior guard tossed in 28 points in the Redbirds’ season-opener against Florida Gulf Coast, giving him an average of 23.8 points per game so far this season.

“Keyshawn is a really good shooter. He’s legitimate,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “He was special tonight. Not that other guys weren’t good, but he kind of carried us.”

That was especially true in the first half, when Evans made 8-of-9 shots from the field and scored 20 points in propelling Illinois State (2-2) to a 46-27 halftime lead. That was part of a 16-for-26 (61.5 percent) first-half shooting performance for the Redbirds

“When you have a guy go off like Keyshawn did, it gives you a chance to get a big lead,” Muller said. “Keyshawn and Phil (Fayne, who scored 18 points) are our two guys who are healthy right now who were in big games last year.

“Keyshawn has been here for two years, so he understands the consistency that you have to play with. He’s a hard-worker, a great kid, and he’s definitely one of our leaders.”

The Golden Hurricane (2-3) made only 37.3 percent of its shots in the game, but Tulsa coach Frank Haith was more concerned about what he said was his team’s lack of effort on defense.

“(Evans) is a really good player and he had a good night, but I think we just didn’t guard him,” Haith said. “And when you don’t guard a good player, he’s going to have a night like he had.

“We gave him too much space. We knew coming into the game from the scouting report how good he could be. That’s what’s really disappointing. He’s a talented player, and we didn’t do a good job making him feel uncomfortable.”