March Madness: How an oxygen tank, fan support has Keenan Evans leading Texas Tech to program history
KANSAS CITY — You’re a college basketball player and you’re injured, and it’s February. The clock on the season is ticking, and March is coming. Worst of all, you’re a senior. There will be no next year.
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And that’s how Texas Tech star Keenan Evans ended up sleeping in a hyperbaric oxygen tank.
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There are growing signs Evans is getting his A game back. That’s not good news for anyone who has to play Texas Tech, be it this week, or next, or however long the Red Raiders are around. His 25 points helped them hold off Texas 73-69 Thursday night, a victory that ended many dry spells.
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It was Texas Tech’s first Big 12 tournament win in five years, is first berth in the semifinals in 13. But then, this is a program that, until now, hadn’t seen 24 victories in a season since 1996, and had never been ranked as high as the No. 6 spot a few weeks ago.
“We’re all about making history,” Evans said.
Now, if only his sprained toe will stop hurting.
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Is that you snickering? A sprained toe? That’s nothing trivial to a basketball player.
“It’s just very painful when it comes to pushing off, especially your big toe,” he said. “The stuff you have to put in your shoe -- the cushions, the insoles -- it kind of takes up room and then you add more pressure to your foot.”
You could tell the impact from Evans’ stat sheet. He had become one of the nation’s most productive players, going for 31 and 38 points against South Carolina and Texas back-to-back, and 26 at Baylor. All was well in Texas Tech’s world. Then he got hurt.
He had four points the next game, two the game after, six the game after that. He missed the next one entirely. The Red Raiders lost all four, and Kansas went blowing past to the Big 12 season title.
Evans can only sit in a training room day after day, icing his foot, looking for any way to get better.
“It’s frustrating every day. I just try to stay confident, stay positive. Not be down, because it brings the team down. It just feels like you can’t go out on your own terms, how you want to go. I’m just trying to battle through.
“Certain stuff I would look up and think, this works, so I’m going to keep trying it. Even though it’s like a myth, I’m going to try it anyway. What’s the worst that can happen?”
He tried to put more pressure on his good right foot when he walked. Tried sleeping on his back, on his side – and in the tank with oxygen flowing around him. “I slept good,” he said of that idea. “I got kind of a tingling in my toe so I think something was working.”
There was also support from the worried Texas Tech masses. No suggestions for treatment, bit “people have been trying to send me their own toe.”
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With Evans at full strength, Texas Tech is a Final Four contender. The Red Raiders have never been there. A big toe would be a small price for some fans to pay.
He started to feel better, he started to do more. He scored 23 points to help beat TCU in the regular season finale, then had a big Thursday game, hitting seven of 10 shots. “I’m getting there,” he said. “Once my adrenaline gets going, I’m maybe 85, 90 percent.”
The four-game losing streak took the Red Raiders off the national radar screen and opened the door for another Kansas conference title. “We were right there. Then we went down with a couple of injuries and it turned the whole Big 12 around,” Evans said. But he’s back, and now things might be different. His healing could be among the most significant in the nation as the NCAA Tournament begins.
“He’s one of the best players I’ve ever coached,” Beard said. “It’s not just his talents, it’s his courage. He wants to be in those moments. He has the ability and courage to take games over.”
Only rest could completely heal the toe.
“I won’t get much of that so I just have to play through it,” Evans said. “Once we get to the tournament, we can be a sneaker and make a run.”
P.S. He’s sleeping in his own bed now.