Only 38.1 seconds remained Wednesday night as Keyshawn Evans came off the Carver Arena floor. The Illinois State junior guard dejectedly shook his head, took a seat on the bench and removed the brace from his left knee.
That he was on the floor at all was a bit of a surprise. That he gave every ounce he could muster was no surprise at all.
Leaders lead and Evans did plenty of that on a night his team needed it. After missing the past two games with the recurrence of a bone bruise on his knee, Evans did not start but wound up playing 24 minutes
His numbers didn’t jump off the stat sheet … 10 points, 2 of 8 shooting from the field, 1 of 6 from 3-point range, 5 of 6 free throws, two assists and two turnovers.
His presence helped keep ISU in the game until the final three minutes of a 70-58 loss to rival Bradley.
“Monday I was limited. It was the first time i tried to do anything,” Evans said. “It was the first day I ran, the first day I tried to slide. It felt OK. It was a little sore. It was pretty much the same the next day.
“I wanted to play tonight. I told Coach (Dan) Muller and (trainer John) Munn I would practice full on Tuesday. I just tried to gut it out.”
With starter Phil Fayne out with an ankle injury and Taylor Bruninga out with a concussion, Evans’ experience was particularly valuable.
Has he played better? You bet.
But he played. It’s the kind of thing teammates notice and expect from a leader.
Asked about Evans’ night, Muller said, “Hopefully it means he’ll be in better shape and be better on Saturday (at home vs. Northern Iowa).”
“He didn’t play well. He practiced yesterday for the first time in over a week, so he was not expected to (play well),” Muller added. “He was rusty. He rushed some shots. But it was good to have him out there. Hopefully he’ll be better tomorrow and better the next day.”
Evans rated the knee as “OK” afterward, declining to put a percentage on how healthy he is.
Muller estimated him at “about 50 percent,” which says a lot for the size of the heart beating beneath Evans’ No. 3 jersey.
“I’m a little sore, but being off for a week I’m expecting to be sore a little bit,” Evans said. “I’m not worried about it.”
Evans is adjusting to the brace, which he described as “uncomfortable.”
He plans to wear it the rest of the season, calling it “my insurance” so he can continue to play worry-free.
Evans showed a good burst on occasion Wednesday, especially after entering the game about five minutes in.
“I can still move. I can still play,” he said of the brace. “After the second time I did it (the bone bruise), it was kind of on me. I felt like I rushed back telling myself I needed to play.
“I sat out for two games and I felt like I could play. I’m going to play hard and compete as if I was 100 percent. I’m not really going to think about it.”
Evans came in averaging 15.6 points and 3.4 assists. Having him back matters to a team trying to work through injuries and build some momentum for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in two weeks.
Wednesday’s first half was a monumental struggle, even with Evans. ISU shot 27 percent from the field and was outrebounded badly, yet was within 29-22 at intermission.
“Do you believe in miracles?” The seven-point deficit qualified.
In the end, the Redbirds did not have enough, but they had Evans.
It makes a difference.