This time it looks like “Bub” is back for real.
After two previous comeback attempts, Virginia point guard Jontel Evans returned to the lineup in Sunday’s victory over North Carolina and looked more like his old self.
UVa’s senior captain didn’t show any rust from a right foot injury that had hampered him since October.
Playing in his first game since Dec. 5, Evans had eight points, six assists and played his usual excellent defense.
“I’m steadily easing my way back,” said Evans, who played 21 minutes off the bench. “I’m still not the Jontel that everybody knows, but I’m getting there and it’s not far away. It’s right around the corner.”
Evans’ performance was certainly leaps and bounds better than the first time he tried to return on Nov. 28 at Wisconsin.
“Against Wisconsin, I was going 100 miles an hour – I was out of sync in the offense and defensively,” Evans said. “[Against North Carolina] I was just taking it upon myself to go at my own pace and take what the defense gives me. I was able to get layups and [get] guys great shots.”
Evans added: “In the Wisconsin game, I was thinking about the wrong things. I was very selfish. This time around I just wanted to be a team player and do the things I can do and get my guys open shots and if there’s an opportunity to score, [take it] and accept the minutes that coach [Tony] Bennett was going to give me.”
Evans says a new orthotic in his sneaker has made a big difference.
With Evans back in the lineup, Virginia now has a player who can utilize ball screens and make plays off the dribble.
Evans’ teammates are certainly glad to have him back.
“He’s a veteran and understands what coach wants,” said Virginia junior Joe Harris. “He’s the spearhead of our defense and our leader of our team. To have him out there just makes us that much better.”
Evans says he never seriously considered taking the medical redshirt season that had been rumored.
“After my last X-ray, the doctors said it [looks] good and we’re at that part of the season where either you go or you don’t and I told them my foot feels fine and I want to go,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about a medical redshirt. I know that was out there and everyone was talking about it, but it never became a serious [consideration] with me.”
On Monday, Bennett referred to junior forward Akil Mitchell as a “warrior” for playing through a badly sprained ankle against North Carolina.
Bennett estimated that athletic trainer Ethan Saliba had administered eight treatments to Mitchell over a four-day span.
Bennett, whose team plays at Wake Forest on Wednesday, said that he will be taking the cautious approach over the next couple of days with Mitchell.
“Akil will practice in a limited capacity,” Bennett said. “Obviously we’ll be smart with him.”
Bennett announced on his radio show on Monday night that he is giving a scholarship to senior walk-on Doug Browman.
Bennett informed Browman in front of the entire team earlier in the day, right before a film session.
“Boy, he was so excited and the guys were so excited,” Bennett said. “Just to reward him for what he’s doing – we had a scholarship for this year and he’ll get that for the second semester.”
Filling in for Evans in the recent win over Wofford, Browman dished out a career-high six assists and helped hold Terriers' leading scorer Karl Cochran 12 points below his season average.
Count Joe Harris as one person among the 12,000-plus at John Paul Jones Arena who was surprised when freshman Evan Nolte took a shot from several feet behind the 3-point line during a decisive second-half run.
“I was like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’” said Harris, smiling. “He was so deep, but he just nailed that thing and I was like, ‘OK, just let it fly if you’re feeling it.’ He’s a tremendous shooter and has all the confidence in the world, which is great, especially for a freshman.”
This season, 65 percent of Virginia sophomore Paul Jesperson’s shots have been 3-pointers. On Sunday night, Jesperson was 2 of 6 from the field, including 1 of 2 from 3.
Jesperson says the coaching staff doesn’t mind all his triples.
“That’s what I do,” he said. “I’m a 3-point shooter, but I think I definitely need to start putting it on the floor a little bit more. Not necessarily scoring, but trying to get other people shots, too.”
One of the few negatives from Virginia’s performance on Sunday was its free-throw shooting. The Wahoos were just 9 of 18. Luckily, UNC was was only 9 of 17.
For the season, UVa is shooting 70.6 percent, which ranks fifth in the ACC and 116th (out of 345) in the country.