No matter where Troy Belton had been the past few months, when the chatter turned to basketball it typically centered around one team.
"We don't just stay over here (in Columbia County) -- we go to Richmond County -- and parents, other teams, other people told us who our competition was going to be," Evans' senior point guard said. "Everywhere we went, we heard about Richmond Academy."
Facing the Musketeers for the first time Tuesday night, Evans didn't back down. When the Knights had the ball, they didn't glide to the hoop or launch jump shots -- they muscled and forced their way inside for contested layups, putback buckets and 42 trips to the free-throw line. Evans' assertiveness was the difference in its 71-63 Region 3-AAAA win, leaving the two ranked teams tied at 8-1 atop the standings at the midway point.
"We wanted to take it at them," said Evans forward Anthony Williams, who slashed inside for almost all of his game-high 18 points. Tony Davis (13) and Brandon McCladdie (11) also finished in double figures for Evans, No. 8 in the latest state rankings.
Richmond Academy, ranked second in the state, never led in the final 25 minutes and had its inside-outside game limited by the Knights' daunting 2-3 zone defense. Wanting to work the ball inside to forward Ricardo Glenn, one of the area's most versatile players, the Musketeers struggled to adapt when Evans denied him the ball, and collapsed on Glenn the few times he received a pass in a favorable position. Anything that went closer to the basket was contested by the 6-foot-8 Jaleel Roberts.
"They kept us too far outside; we couldn't get it in the middle for whatever reason," Richmond Academy coach Steve Nobles said. "We wanted to try and make the zone move, but we didn't do that."
Evans coach Kevin Kenny said he liked the way his team rebounded on the defensive end, rarely allowing a second-chance opportunity. He called Roberts' defensive effort, "one of his better games."
The Musketeers got as close as one point late in the third quarter when Glenn -- who scored a team-high 16 points -- hit one of two free-throw attempts and twice closed to within three points in the final period.
"If they got the lead, we could have been in trouble," Kenny said.
Richmond Academy struggled to keep pace, though, after Desmond Lofland fouled out with 2:09 remaining. The standout guard, who was limited to four points, was whistled for a reach-in 30 feet from the basket. Christian Nobles scored 12 points operating in Lofland's stead.
Evans made 27 of 42 attempts from the foul line -- more than the Musketeers attempted (20).