Williams steps up as steady force inside

Devin Williams has been the type of player to know his role all season long.

For much of the season, that role was to be the main supporting player to point guard Juwan Staten. The sophomore big man was still building his game as West Virginia's go-to presence in the low post - working through some issues with finding consistency and learning through some things he was struggling with - but for the most part was a solid option for the Mountaineers.

But when both Staten and senior guard Gary Browne went down with injuries and were absent from the WVU lineup at the end of the regular season, Williams knew it was time to step up.

"When they went down, that was my sign that said I needed to show what I can really do," Williams said. "It's always been there, I've always been that role player. I don't like to step outside of my box when I don't need to, I just always want to do what is needed for the team. But when Wanny and Gary were gone, I was the guy people were looking to and I had to fill that role."

Of course, as he said, it's not rare for Williams to be a productive player for WVU - he has averaged more than 11 points and eight rebounds per game this season - but since the calendar has flipped to March, Williams has been wonderful in his bigger role for the Mountaineers.

In the four games WVU has played during college basketball's most important month, Williams is averaging 16.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game - including his impressive 17 points and nine rebounds to lead the way for West Virginia against Buffalo in Friday's Round of 64 game at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus - which is less than two hours from his hometown of Cincinnati. For him, he's just been trying to continue doing the things that have helped him have success up to this point. He hangs his hat on the effort he puts in for the time he's out on the floor.

The difference, in his mind, is pretty easy to see as the results have started to come in.

"It's just about the effort. I'm going out there and playing hard, giving 110 percent," Williams said. "That's why I've been able to do what I've done because I'm ready to go all-out and outwork the guy I'm going against. That's always been the easiest way to get production that this team needs me to get."

A steady and consistent Williams that can dominate his opposition in the low post can bring a different, distinct wrinkle to what West Virginia has been able to do. It gives them a legitimate threat to go to and play off of their guards and be that guy to go to down low who can score on the block in post-up situations or clean up the offensive glass and get second-chance buckets and keep possessions alive. That makes Williams - and potentially WVU - a key threat in the postseason.

"That's what makes us hard to prepare for," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "Devin can be a little more consistent because he's such a terrific offensive rebounder, and he scores some goals off the offensive glass, which kind of gives him a little bit more of an advantage in terms of being a little more consistent scoring the ball."

WVU staying loose, comfortable in tournament environment

When teams or players enter the NCAA tournament for the first time, it's easy to get caught up in the moment of being in the national spotlight and struggle to continue handling things like business as usual.

But that's one thing West Virginia players haven't had much difficulty balancing during their first trip back to the Big Dance since 2012. Even with all but one player on the roster making their first trip to the tournament, the Mountainers have been able to handle everything in stride by staying loose and having fun with the experience. As WVU opened up shootaround on the court at Nationwide Arena prior to the Round of 64 game, several Mountaineers took the time to stop and have a manager take photos of them in the arena so they can have something to remember the moment. After that, it was straight back to work.

"I'm loving this week a lot," said junior forward Jonathan Holton. "We're all really happy. It's a great feeling. Everybody is just having a good time because everyone picked against us, so we wanted to prove people wrong. We're just trying to play hard."

But while they enjoy being the underdog, Holton says he doesn't like saying that West Virginia is playing with a mentality that they have nothing to lose because they're aware of what's on the line every time they step out on the floor at this point of the season.

"We have a lot to lose. We don't want this season to end," Holton said. "We have two really important seniors in Juwan Staten and Gary Browne and honestly they've helped make this program what it is and we want to take those guys out with a bang this year."

BlueGoldNews Top Stories