MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After his 22-point, 13-rebound day blind-sided No. 8 Kansas, Devin Williams wasn’t about to give his performance an asterisk simply because Joel Embiid wasn’t around.
Kansas coach Bill Self followed through on plans to rest his sore 7-footer, the Big 12’s No. 2 shot-blocker, and Embiid’s absence allowed West Virginia to attack the rim more aggressively in a 92-86 upset. Yet Williams credited his own film study and improved preparation as the reason he sank his first seven shots.
“I was ready for the challenge whether (Embiid) was there or not,” Williams said. “It was nothing I could about him not being there. I just had to go out and play because they’ve still got six or seven All-Americans on the bench.”
Even Self admitted Embiid’s presence might not have altered the game’s outcome or slowed down Williams, who mixed midrange jumpers on an 8-of-10 shooting day.
“Every shot I took today I kind of picked my spots, but they all were rhythm shots,” said Williams, who came in averaging 8.3 points per game.
Teammate Eron Harris, who poured in 28 points himself, credited Williams’ output with making West Virginia unguardable at times.
“We’ve been waiting for him to play like that the whole season,” Harris said. “It’s a mismatch—he’s shooting outside shots and driving to the basket. If told him if he plays like that, nobody can beat us.”
The 6-foot-8 freshman had 20 points and 12 boards in a December loss to Purdue before experiencing rough times in conference play. He endured a 13-game stretch in which he made only 25-of-80 field-goal attempts, failing to find angles against post defenders and even losing confidence in his jumper. Williams said the turnaround began when his mom borrowed a refrain from West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
“She just told me, ‘You’ve got to get in the gym. That’s the only way you’re going to find yourself.’ And that’s what did … and I think I’m finding myself. I’m jut going to stay humble about it and continue to work.”
Williams’ stroke also turned steady at the foul line, where he made 6-of-7 to improve his season total to 57 percent.
“Remember early,” Huggins said, “when he went to the foul line it was like, ‘Let’s get back on defense, boys.’ He wasn’t going to make one. You think about how much his confidence has come.”