There was just 1:54 remaining in the game when South Dakota State forward Reed Tellinghuisen knocked in his second free throw to tie his team’s first-round game in the NCAA Tournament against Ohio State at 70.
Had the Buckeyes crumbled in that next 1:54, redshirt senior guard Kam Williams’ five-year career at Ohio State could have ended abruptly — not with a bang, but with a whimper.
But Williams, always the most energetic player on the court for Ohio State, was not going to allow his team to exit the NCAA Tournament with a whimper. Just 18 seconds later, Williams heaved up a 3-pointer, was fouled and drilled the shot.
After making the free throw — and three more after being fouled on another 3-point attempt — Williams gave his team the lead and set them up with a Saturday date against Gonzaga in the Round of 32.
For someone who has never really shined for an extended period of time at Ohio State, Williams had a memorable performance to keep his team’s title hopes alive.
He has always shown glimpses of becoming a potentially dynamic player, but just has never broken out.
Williams scored more than 20 points in a game at least once in each of the past four years. Overall, he has achieved the feat six times. There have been times when he appears unstoppable from beyond the arc.
However, for as often as he appeared flawless from 3, Williams also would attempt low-percentage shots that halted his team’s momentum or just quickly gave the ball back to the opposition.
He also has had discipline issues. Before the team began its game against Illinois on Feb. 4, it announced Williams would be suspended indefinitely. He missed games against Illinois, Purdue and Iowa while head coach Chris Holtmann said he was finishing up work on a project.
When he returned, he had to fight for the starting spot from sophomore forward Andre Wesson until he finally reclaimed it with a 13-point performance against Rutgers on Feb. 20 in his final home game as a Buckeye.
The once-four-star prospect who came to Ohio State as the No. 72 prospect in the 2013 class would at times excite fans, but would frustrate them at other times.
His final season has had a different feeling to it though. In past seasons, he has seemingly been a loose cannon that could function properly or backfire. There was no telling what to expect from Williams in a given night. In his final season, Williams has seemed more controlled.
It seems that a player who has always been a wild card finally found his niche.
His role was no longer someone who needed to carry the team on certain nights and try to knock down a shot every time he had his hands on the ball. Instead, he fit the role of a player who was free to find space when a player like redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop was double-covered and knock down an open 3 and play consistent defense.
The overall numbers aren’t his best. His 8.2 points and 0.7 assists per game averages would both be the third best of his career and the two rebounds per game are 0.1 shy of last season’s average. His shot selectivity has shown improvement, however, with his 48.6 percent and 44 percent field goal and 3-point success rates both representing career-high marks.
Though he does not try to be the backbone of the team anymore, there are still times he still can provide the Buckeyes with momentum.
During the middle of the first half, Williams stole an attempted cross-court pass from junior center Mike Daum and took it up the court before eventually knocking down a 3. Forty-four seconds later, he raced from the corner to get under the basket and extend his team’s lead to 26-18.
He later had his seven-point streak late in the second half to give the Buckeyes the lead and ice the win.
Williams has steadily improved in his final season in scarlet and gray, even if the numbers don’t directly show it. He has battled through a lot, including the suspension, to get to the point where he set the Buckeyes up for another game in the NCAA Tournament.
His time as a Buckeye is drawing to an end. As long as he can help it, the team will continue to play on and ensure his final season ends with a bang.
There’s no telling what will happen when fifth-seeded Ohio State faces No. 4 Gonzaga, a team that beat the Buckeyes 86-59 earlier in the season. It could be the final game for Williams. So too could have been Thursday’s game against South Dakota State.
But thanks to his late-game heroics against South Dakota State, he has bought himself at least 40 more minutes.