Williams Stepped Up On Big Stage

Amir Williams' playing time has gone up and down during the 2011-12 season, but his attitude has not. That's one reason he was able to play a crucial role in Ohio State's Final Four-clinching win against Syracuse on Saturday, as the freshman center was ready when the team needed him most.

It's fair to say that when Ohio State freshman Amir Williams takes his seat on the Buckeye bench to begin each game, he's not sure if he's going to get into the game or not.

That has been especially true near the end of the campaign. Though Williams has played in 28 of 38 games this season, that ratio drops to just nine of the last 17 contests. In other words, when the schedule has gotten tough this year, Williams has been a spectator about as often as he's been a participant.

That's never easy for an athlete, but the 6-11 center – backup to both All-American Jared Sullinger and junior Evan Ravenel – has taken it in stride.

"It's not hard at all," he said. "At any given moment, something can happen. At the beginning of the season when Jared got hurt in the South Carolina game, I was ready to go then, and with him getting in foul trouble at any time of the game, I'm always mentally prepared inside my head to go out there and be ready to play."

If that wasn't the case, Ohio State likely would be getting ready to watch the Final Four rather than play in it. With both Sullinger and Ravenel in foul trouble of the first half of the Buckeyes' Elite Eight showdown with Syracuse on Saturday night, Williams stepped up and played 8:45 of crucial time in OSU's 77-70 victory in the East Region final.

His performance showed he wasn't overwhelmed by the occasion. Even after getting called for offensive goaltending on the first possession he played, Williams had three points – two on a thunderous dunk off a bounce pass from Thomas – while also pulling in four rebounds and blocking two shots, including a rather startling rejection of ‘Cuse forward Kris Joseph.

"He was huge with the minutes he played," assistant coach Jeff Boals said. "He had some points. He missed some free throws but those missed free throws were fouls on them, which were huge, especially with their big guys. He got a huge block, some big rebounds.

"For a kid like that to come in – I'm not sure the last time he's played significant minutes, but he did it at Kansas, he did it against Michigan State. He comes to work every day in practice and he was ready for his opportunity and was a huge spark plug for us."

As Boals alluded to, Williams has had some key playing time after entering Ohio State as a four-star prospect out of Birmingham, Mich., and Detroit Country Day High School, including 10-plus minutes in five of his first 10 games. With Sullinger banged up early in the season, Williams was in for 15 minutes apiece against both Kansas and South Carolina, posting a career-high six points against the Gamecocks on 3-of-5 shooting.

However, time on the court has been hard to come by as Sullinger has improved in health and the games have gone up in importance. In all, Williams entered the Syracuse game with only 1.7 points in 6.6 minutes per game, but he had 58 rebounds and 21 blocks in 179 minutes. The sparse playing time could have affected a lot of players, but Williams said he has adjusted to the role.

"It was rough at the beginning of the season, but just talking to Coach a lot, he helped me calm down," Williams said. "It's a mental thing, and midway through the season, I was fine with it. I was ready to play at any given moment of the season."

While Williams has seen his playing time dwindle, head coach Thad Matta confirmed that hasn't been through any lack of effort.

"It's funny because I think dating back when he came back for Christmas, he's been tremendous in practice," Matta said. "If you really look across the board when he's gone in when it mattered, he's a done a heck of a job for us."

That has been true in a couple of small cameos near the end of the campaign. Williams played four minutes each in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and the second round of the NCAA tournament, appearances that allowed him to get his feet wet in important contests.

With that in mind, he was ready when the call came for him to go in against the Orange.

"(I wasn't overwhelmed) at all," he said. "I was just trying to keep my head. I don't care who the opponent is. I just have to go out there and play my hardest, to do what I have to do to help the team win."

His teammates were impressed with that ability to handle the situation.

"I asked him if he was nervous and he was like, ‘No, I'm good,' " forward Deshaun Thomas said. "When I was in his shoes, I remember coming in last year when David Lighty was in foul trouble. I had to be that energy guy to help out.

"He played really well and being in his shoes, it's something great because you never know. Sully can go out at any minute. I just told him to be ready and be thankful for the minutes he came in and put in."

Listening to Williams after the game, it's obvious that that was the case.

"Just being a part of the of the environment, getting out there and running up and down the court a few times, that's one of the great things ever, being a part of it rather than just sitting there and watching the game the whole time," he said. "It was a great day for me."

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