Because Jabari Evans is a newcomer to the Brainerd High School boys' basketball team, the Panthers may not have known how much he was missed when he got hurt early in the season. But after his breakout performance Friday against rival Howard, they have a good idea how much they missed him now.
The senior transfer from the Atlanta area led Brainerd in three major statistical categories, not the least his career-best 36 points, and the Panthers defeated the Hustlin' Tigers 81-73 in a District 6-AA game at Brainerd.
Additionally, Evans, who injured his back in a season-opening tournament in the Bahamas and missed a handful of games, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished seven assists.
"Good players make you look like you know what you're doing," longtime Brainerd coach Robert High said.
Howard was leading 25-21 when the Panthers started a 14-0 run. Although the Tigers responded with three consecutive 3-point goals to get back within 35-34, they never could regain the lead.
Howard coach Walter McGary said getting beat on the boards started his team's downfall.
"What we did most of the night, and during that run, was move without the ball," High said. "We cut to the basket for backside layups and did a good job taking advantage of that. We didn't stand around on offense."
Brainerd (13-5, 4-2) outscored the Tigers 20-14 in the second quarter, which was the only period in which post player Brandon Walters didn't score. He ended up leading Howard (7-5, 4-3) with 20 points.
"He got in foul trouble," McGary said. "He's got to understand for our team to be successful he's got to stay in the game, and be coachable.
"He hurts his team severely when he gets in foul trouble."
Although the Panthers led throughout the second half, the lead was never larger than 56-45.
"We did lose focus a little bit," Evans said, "but we locked down on defense and hit our free throws."
Brainerd made 15 of 16 free throws in the fourth quarter and 23 of 29 in the game, led by Evans with 16 of 18.
"He took control," High said. "He said, 'This is my ballgame.' He's a big-game player anyway."
Demetrius Kitchens gave good scoring support with 19 points, and Jeulian High added 10.
For Howard, Antonio Smith's points came on four 3-point goals. RodDarius Martin and Tevan Jackson each contributed 10 points with eight of Martin's coming in the first quarter.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.