ALBANY The roster says Evan Hymes is still as big as he’s always been at Siena, which is not very.
Five-foot-8, 155 pounds.
The stats say he is a diminished player.
After averaging 35.3 minutes per game in his first two seasons, he’s averaging 22 now.
After starting 58 of 62 games as a freshman and sophomore, he’s a bench player as a junior.
His scoring is down a little bit.
If anything, though, his role has never been bigger.
That was never more evident than on Monday night, when Hymes spearheaded a 22-0 run that got the Saints out of a massive hole against Fordham on the way to a 79-69 victory.
First-year head coach Jimmy Patsos got in Hymes’ ear during a timeout, imploring him in the inimitable Patsos way to attack, attack, attack, and Hymes responded. The rest followed.
Upheaval on the coaching staff is always a time of uncertainty for players, but Hymes deserves credit for accepting his new job, a significant departure from what he was used to, but also a crucial pact with Patsos that has helped Siena begin to grind its way back to respectability.
Instead of pouting, Hymes, who was granted his release from Siena after Patsos was hired, chose to stay. His numbers are down, but things are picking up down on South Pearl Street, and Hymes’ leadership is a big part of that.
“I don’t think we win the game without Evan Hymes,” Patsos said.
“We had great leadership from Evan coming off the bench,” said fellow junior Rob Poole, who scored a career-high 28 points. “He never gave up and told us we were going to win the game the entire time. Without his leadership coming off the bench, I don’t think we could’ve done it.”
Because of a variety of roster losses, Siena used a 300 Spartans lineup two seasons ago.
The effect on Hymes, who was recruited from Durham, N.C., by former assistant Craig Carter, was to thrust him into a full-time role from the start.
Subsequently, he was one of the national leaders in minutes played.
Subsequently, he started to break down toward the end of the season, suffering back problems at the MAAC tournament.
It wasn’t much different last year, when Hymes averaged 33.7 minutes on a team with no true point guard for the second year in a row.
He led the team in assists, but also turnovers.
Patsos recruited Marquis Wright to Siena, and he has been the clearcut point guard from Day 1.
That put Hymes in a bit of limbo, because not only was he not a Patsos guy, but it was unclear how he would be used if he chose to stay.
With his mother recovering from eye surgery, Hymes considered some offers to transfer closer to home, while saying he wanted to stay at Siena.
He said it took some adjusting to settle into what Patsos expects of him.
“Coach came in and told us he wanted to get back to where we want to be,” Hymes said. “He knew I was a scoring guard. Quis is a great passer. I just accepted the role. Coach always tells us it’s not about who starts the game, it’s about who finishes.”
“It’s completely different. Ev was scoring it [as a freshman and sophomore], he had the green light every time,” Poole said. “Now, Jimmy’s right, he wants him to the basket, he wants him to get to the free-throw line, and Ev can do that. Ev’s one of the quickest kids in the league. No one can guard Ev off the bounce. So Jimmy wants him to bring good energy, play good defense and score, and that’s what he’s doing.”
On Monday, Patsos pressed and went to an active zone when Fordham took a 53-40 lead with 12 minutes left.
Hymes started the 22-0 run by making two free throws, he scored in transition to bring Siena within 53-50 and fed Brett Bisping off a drive to make it 53-52.
Another hard drive by Hymes set up Imoh Silas for a reverse, and Hymes passed to Poole for a score that made it 60-53.
After attempting 343 three-pointers in two seasons, Hymes is on pace to shoot fewer than a 100 this year, but made a big one to give Siena a 67-59 lead late.
It was on the defensive end, though, where his impact was felt.
“The good news was Evan Hymes and I kind of just said this is either going to work or it’s not going to work,” Patsos said. “You’ve got to fly around and play really fast.
“I know Poole played well, but Evan Hymes won us the game emotionally. He started attacking the rim. He knows how to talk on D, he’s a smart kid and I told him, ‘You’ve got to stop holding back.’ So I give him a lot of credit as the captain.”
That prompted Patsos to launch into a Captain Phillips comparison.
He took the team to see the movie before Christmas break.
The freshman Wright runs the show on offense but isn’t a demonstrative talker, and Poole was immersed in a career scoring night, so Patsos gave Hymes an earful and told Hymes to take command of the ship.
“I told Evan, ‘You’ve got to be Captain Phillips,’ ” Patsos said. “Marquis is too young, and Poole’s Poole. I don’t like to mess around with guys who are scorers and shooters. It’s hard for them to be captains because they’re in their own little space.”
“He yelled at me a little bit, and got me motivated,” Hymes said. “I just wanted to be one of the captains, one of the older guys, and I kept huddling them up and telling the young guys, ‘Let’s go, guys, we’re still in this game.’ We’ve been down before. My freshman year, we were down 22 against Iona. I knew we could come back.”
Patsos likened Hymes to Siena’s version of players such as Michael Adams and Tiny Archibald, players who carved out careers as undersized scorers who were in that position only because they were willing to play defense, too.
“I just think that when Evan plays fullcourt defense, his whole game gets better,” Patsos said. “Whether he wants to do it or not … I said you have to. Tiny Archibald didn’t want to play defense until Bill Fitch got there.
“Muggsy Bogues played defense. I’m not against Spud Webb, but one of the reasons he didn’t really make it in the NBA is because he didn’t really want to play defense. When Evan engages on defense, his whole game comes up. And he’s got to play defense. He’s our leader.”
“Being a captain, when they see me get in somebody fullcourt, they buy in and fall in behind,” Hymes said.