‘A little bit of everything.’ Elizabethtown’s 6-foot-10 center dominant in first-round win.
For 32 minutes in front of a crowd of more than 11,000, the matchup between 5th Region victor Elizabethtown and 1st Region champion McCracken County was a dogfight.
Nine lead changes culminated in a hard-fought 48-44 Elizabethtown win.
McCracken County takes an immense amount of pride in its defense. The Mustangs boast the most impressive scoring defense in the field of this year’s UK Healthcare Boys’ Sweet 16, holding their opponents on average this season to a mere 48.6 points per game.
“Just kind of our culture, McCracken County head coach Dustin Roberts said. “Our guys know, if you don’t defend you’re not gonna see the floor.”
But it’s not often that teams have to face a player with the sheer size and athleticism of Elizabethtown’s Ayden Evans.
Currently ranked as the No. 16 center in his 2024 recruiting class per the 247Sports Composite, the 6-foot-10 Evans finished with 21 points, four rebounds, three steals and seven blocks in Elizabethtown’s win.
Elizabethtown’s @AydenEvans9 with the dunk, his second of the game. Panthers up 42-39 over McCracken County with 3:48 to play in 4Q. pic.twitter.com/3LPpZZEVvC
— Caroline Makauskas (@cmakauskas) March 15, 2023
“He is a pleasure to coach,” Elizabethtown head coach James Haire said of the star. “Does anything you ask him to do. He’s developing every day. Even though he’s 6-10, he’s not really a post player. But I have no need for a 6-10 person hanging on the perimeter. So he does that for us, and at the next level, he’ll be playing in a totally different spot than he is. He is developing, and I see growth every single day.”
Evans’ versatility allows him to impact the game on both ends of the floor, but he says it’s all about executing where his team needs him most.
“I work on a little bit of everything every day,” Evans said, “to come out and give my team my all and do whatever I can to win a game.”
Evans has reported scholarship offers from Murray State, Seton Hall, Texas A&M, Missouri, Mississippi State and West Virginia, among others.
— Ayden Evans (@AydenEvans9) January 13, 2023
McCracken County’s 44 points ranks as the team’s third-lowest point total of the season. Roberts said that every possession against Evans was a difficult one.
“You don’t get anything easy,” Roberts said. “... There’s just no free pass to the basket. And you know, when you catch the ball, you got to be cognizant of that and our guys were. And I think that might’ve attributed to the low shooting from three-point range. We were always, maybe, keeping an eye on him because he is a game-changer with the shot blocking. Kid’s very long. Gets up off the floor pretty good, has really good timing.”
McCracken (29-6) shot 17-for-41 from the field (41.5 percent) including just 1-for-11 from three-point range.
Elizabethtown guard Obi Howard finished with 10 points, three assists and a pair of steals. Connor Miller led the Mustangs with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Elizabethtown (24-9) increased its win streak to eight. Haire took the time to discuss his team’s growth.
“We’re playing together better,” Haire said. “We are making better decisions. I would like to say we’re rebounding better but after tonight, you know I can’t make that statement (a 36-19 McCracken advantage on the boards). But they are doing a lot of good things. This group right here has come so far from the first game to now.”
The Panthers, who were unranked in the Herald-Leader’s preseason coaches poll and entered the state tournament rated 11th of 16 teams by Dave Cantrall, will face Woodford County (21-12) on Friday at 11 a.m. in the quarterfinals.
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