Ryann Evans has almost no complaints since transferring closer to her Columbia, Md., home at Towson University this season.
The Tigers have racked up a 23-6 overall mark, setting a school record for victories with postseason games still to play. They’ve won 10 or their last 12 heading into the Colonial Athletic Association tournament this week in Philadelphia. Evans, the Archbishop Spalding product, has fit right in at Towson, a team loaded with transfer talent. The 5-foot-10 junior immediately took to a vital role doing a lot of the “dirty work” to make everyone else’s life easier, a role she has always loved.
In fact, the only thing Evans doesn’t love at Towson is head coach Diane Richardson acknowledging her with the emphatic high five the coach prefers as a greeting.
“I bang my finger on her big, old championship ring every time she gives me a high five, and that’s every day,” Evans said. “It’s just a constant reminder that I need to get one, too.”
Richardson got her jewelry in 2019, guiding Towson to the tournament title in just her second season. Evans, a junior after two years playing at East Carolina, will have her chance at her own ring starting this week as the third-seeded Tigers (14-4) open play in the CAA Tournament at Drexel University. No. 3 Towson will open play March 11 at 7:30 p.m. against No. 6 Northeastern.
Evans’ Winning Ways
If the Tigers can show their stripes and make another postseason run, make no mistake, Evans will be a key, though if you’re not paying close attention, you might not figure out exactly how. She’s not among Towson’s top scorers or rebounders — and the Tigers have lots of both — but Evans does perhaps lead the team in grit and hustle.
“She does so much for us,” said Richardson, who has built the Towson program mining Maryland for top talent. “She’s blue collar and does a lot of the things that don’t show up on a stat sheet. We put her on the best offensive player, things like that. She’s boxing out so others can rebound. She has been crucial to us winning so many games.”
Truth be told, Evans didn’t realize what she was getting into coming to Towson. She wanted to come because childhood friend/rival-then-teammate Aleah Nelson was here. In fact, when Evans packed up her car and left East Carolina, her first call was to Nelson, who had transferred to Towson a year earlier after being at Cincinnati.
“I knew she wasn’t happy and as soon as I picked up the phone, I thought she was calling me because she wanted to transfer,” said Nelson, a native of Baltimore. “And sure enough, she was in the car on the way home and she said, ‘Yeah, I’m leaving.’ I wanted her to come here, too.”
Nelson and Evans had played against each other in elementary school and eventually became AAU teammates. Their games have always meshed well, Nelson a dominant ball-handling guard with a knack for scoring and Evans the aggressive, tough hustler with a knack for getting Nelson more chances to do just that.
“She’s like Dennis Rodman for us,” Nelson added. “She’s really scrappy and gets loose balls. She does the dirty work that leads to extra possessions, getting loose balls, offensive and defensive rebounds.”
Evans is averaging 4.3 points (eighth on the team), 5.1 rebounds (fifth), and 0.9 steals (seventh). She has started 22 games. She’s sixth in minutes (22.5 per game) and is obviously making the most of her time on the floor.
“I do enjoy shooting threes and all the fun things, too, but I just really like all the hustle plays –that’s my style,” Evans said. “Everybody on the team calls me ‘Rodman’ or ‘Freight Train’ because I just don’t stop.”
Nelson (16.8 points per game), Allie Kubek (14.7) and Anissa Rivera (10.8) all rank in the CAA’s top 25 in scoring. Nelson is third in the league in assists (5.4). Rivera is seventh in rebounding (7.3). Evans contributes in other ways. In addition to leading the Tigers in floor burns, there’s that all-out attitude and sticky defense.
“I just really look to lock in,” she explained. “They’re always putting me on the best players on the other team and I really look at that as a challenge.”
Challenge accepted. Towson leads the CAA in defensive field goal percentage (.355) and rebound margin (+7.8), a figure that ranks 17th nationally. Those numbers and the league-leading 4.6 blocked shots per game are great building blocks for a winning program and fuel the Tigers’ transition game, a trait Towson hopes will take them places in March.
“Getting rebounds, which leads to points in transition is where we’ve improved the most,” Nelson said. “Coach Richardson is always talking about how transition is our bread and butter. It puts pressure on other teams.”
And that makes the Tigers fun to watch, though maybe not so much for other teams. Towson swept quarterfinal foe Northeastern this season, winning 86-81 at home behind 20-point performances from Nelson and Kubek in late January. It was tighter on the Huskies’ home floor two weeks ago, Towson hanging on for a 57-56 victory thanks to some solid defense and clutch free-throw shooting late.
Tough Times, But Fun, Too
Towson finished third in the CAA behind Drexel and Delaware. The Tigers were 1-3 against the top two teams, but that lone win came March 5, a 69-61 surprise against top-seed Drexel. They dropped an 85-71 decision to Delaware March 3.
“The tough competition late in the schedule really prepared us for the tournament,” Richardson said. “Now we’ve got a chance to work on the things we need to improve. We have to rebound a little better, box out. Defense and defensive rebounds are important for us.”
The Tigers are already pretty danged good in those areas, and Richardson left out one thing. Her team needs to continue to have fun, something that has obviously become a key ingredient in the winning ways she has established just north of Baltimore proper. Nelson and Evans both mentioned the fun they’re having, and it was something Evans saw from afar, which made her want to head home.
“We like to win and have fun,” Evans said. “We’re serious when we need to be, but it’s loose and enjoyable here. We laugh a lot.”
Especially those transfers who are making such a difference. Nelson helped round them up, and they’re all roommates now — Nelson, Evans, Rivera (from Capitol Heights by way of North Carolina Central) and Rayne Tucker (New Carrollton via James Madison transfer). They all found a home closer to home and have made Towson a force with which to be reckoned.
“Honestly, I had no idea,” Evans laughed of how good the mix would be. “I was going to come here with Aleah and have that little dynamic duo we always had, and I had no clue we’d have the team we have right now. It was a great surprise.”
The recent win against Drexel was an encouraging sign and worthy of celebration, though Evans probably preferred hugs to high fives, particularly from her literally heavy-handed coach. She hopes to be ready by next season, with a ring of her own to wave around.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Towson Athletics