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Evans, Knights advance to second round of Big East tournament

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Northern Nash's Kylar Wiggins, right, drives around Wilson Fike's Brikayla Whitaker, left, and Syniya Artis on Monday during the Big East Conference Tournament at Rocky Mount High School.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Monday, February 18, 2019

Hannah Evans has spent the past four years trying to prove that she belongs on a basketball court.

On Monday, it all came together for the Northern Nash sophomore. Evans scored a team-high 14 points to lead the fifth-seeded Knights (11-12, 6-5) to a 53-38 win over fourth-seeded Wilson Fike in the opening round of the Big East Conference tournament.

Northern Nash advances to play the tournament’s top seed in Wilson Hunt at 6 p.m. on Wednesday. The Knights are the lone team to beat the Warriors (18-3, 9-1) in conference play this season. 

“A lot of people ask me what motivates me,” said the 5-foot-6 Evans who also grabbed seven rebounds. “I go out there for my team, my school, and to represent because a lot of people at the beginning of the season were doubting us and I got to go out there and prove them wrong.”

She’s used to doing that.

Evans was cut during tryouts for her seventh grade basketball team. She used that following summer to work on her game and earned a spot on the eighth grade team, but didn’t see much playing time.

The summer before her freshman year, Evans took advantage of open gym sessions at the high school and honed her game at the YMCA, all while aiming to build up her confidence. The work paid off as she made the Knights varsity team as a freshman.

“Going into high school I trained and worked hard all summer,” she said. “I knew who I wanted to be as a player and I pushed myself to get there.”

Now, in her second season playing on varsity under coach Grover Battle, Evans is the team’s top scorer. She showed that skill early by scoring 10 of her 14 points in the first half against the Demons, and made a pair of 3-pointers.

“She scores well and has a lot of potential,” Battle said. “And this is a girl who in middle school didn’t play much at all. She has worked very hard to improve her game and I’m really proud of her because she is a success story.”

For Northern Nash, the 53 points were the most it’s scored in a game since a Jan. 3 win over North Edgecombe. The Knights lost four in a row to end the season after holding a share of the conference lead with Hunt and a 5-1 league record by the end of January.

And despite the string of losses, the team had been playing well. The final three defeats were by a total of five points, including a one-point loss to Fike on Feb. 5.

“Toward the end of the year we’ve been getting better and better, playing good defense, but things haven’t gone our way,” Battle said. “We had a lot of losses by one or two points, and some games we missed 16 or 17 free throws.”

On Monday, the Knights were 10-for-13 from the foul line and the defense held Fike to four points in the third quarter. 

Indyia Spooner and Kylar Wiggins each scored eight points for the Knights, while Kanasia Arrington and Mina Thorne added six apiece. Thorne finished with a team-high eight rebounds off the bench, and added a presence in the middle of the court to offset Fike’s height advantage.

Ashleigh Sage, the Demon’s 6-foot-2 center, collected three blocks and turned away Northern Nash’s driving guards. Thorne, the tallest Knights player at 6-foot, was able to keep the Knights competitive on the boards.

In all, Northern Nash outrebounded Fike 39-27.

“We had our reserves come in and do an outstanding job of rebounding and defending,” Battle said. “And Mina did a real good job on the inside helping us a lot. She got a lot of minutes and we’ve been waiting on her. We have a lot of guards, so she did a good job of that.”

Now, the Knights will play Wednesday at the Rocky Mount Event Center for a berth in the tournament championship, and will have to topple a talented Hunt team to do so.

“We hustle hard, play smart and play good defense,” Evans said. “And if we can do that, we’ll always have a chance.”

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