Evans High School's student body was aware of the latest Class AAAA basketball coaches poll before the Knights' matchup with Richmond Academy on Tuesday.
"Everybody said that we went up to No. 6, they were at (No. 4)," Evans forward Tony Davis said. "We were walking around school, people were downgrading us, saying they were going to blow us out."
Evans outplayed the Musketeers for much of the game's 32 minutes during its 71-63 win. The Knights forced their way to the basket and earned trips to the free-throw line, while their 2-3 defense had the opposite effect on the Musketeers.
Richmond Academy was limited to shooting over the Knights' defense. When the Musketeers ventured inside, Evans big man Jaleel Roberts was there to alter shots.
"They did a good job of pushing us out on the perimeter," Richmond Academy coach Steve Nobles said. "We have a lot of work to do."
Evans coach Kevin Kenny has used the 2-3 zone often this season, partly to keep Davis and Roberts out of foul trouble. Point guard Troy Belton and forward Brandon McCladdie often defend the perimeter. When the ball is rotated inside, Roberts, Davis and others are there to collapse on big men such as Richmond Academy standout Ricardo Glenn. Glenn managed 17 points Tuesday, but the Knights are confident their zone can carry them far.
"Our main goal is to play the zone and try our best to keep them out of the lane," Evans forward Troy Griffith said. "If (a player) gets the ball in the lane, make sure we contest it."
Roberts turned in one of his best performances. The 6-foot-8 junior, still adjusting to his larger role this season, dropped a pair of mid-range jumpers and finished with 6 points. A dunk attempt rattled out, but he swung the momentum on the other end with nine blocks.
"It's been fun to watch him develop over the last two seasons," Griffith said. "He's just gotten a lot better."
Evans' lone loss entering Tuesday's game was to Glenn Hills on Dec. 9. The Knights were held to 46 points and missed 21 free throws during the loss to the Spartans.
Kenny's team made 27 of 42 free-throw attempts Tuesday, converting more than the Musketeers attempted (20). It wasn't perfect, but the Knights feel better about their chances in a rematch against the Spartans on Tuesday at Glenn Hills.
Knocking off a top-5 Richmond Academy team didn't do anything to hurt the Knights' morale.
"I knew deep down we had more heart than them, and we were going to pull out a victory," Davis said.
The Musketeers battled foul trouble late. They pulled within two points with 6:15 left. But the Knights connected on 13 of 14 free throws to fend off a comeback.
Evans guard Anthony Williams scored a game-high 18 points, and Davis added 13. McCladdie finished with 11.
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