MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Devin Williams issued the prediction 11 days ago, soaking up a victory in Ames while Jonathan Holton sat exiled back in Morgantown.
“When we get Jon back it’s going to be spooky, real spooky.”
TCU certainly looked spooked Saturday, both by Holton’s re-emergence and West Virginia’s frightening defensive assault on the notion of Big 12 parity. Were this a caucus, CNN would’ve projected Saturday’s winner long before the Mountaineers football players made a halftime cameo to flash their Cactus Bowl hardware.
Holton pinged and pounced and darted around, just as Williams predicted, happy to be unleashed after a four-game suspension in which his primary energy-burning outlet was the weight room and the treadmill. (TCU no doubt preferred Holton’s return be delayed one more game, if only out of mercy for the visitors having won only one Big 12 road game in their four-year history.)
During a 73-42 victory, Williams made some history of his own after beginning the day nine points shy of 1,000. He wasn’t fixated on the number, until the school’s sports information director, the team’s administrative assistant and a string of social media contacts spelled it out.
“I just heard everybody talking about ‘nine … nine … nine’ and I didn’t really know what it meant. Then I woke up at like 7 a.m. and there were some tags on my Instagram saying I had the chance to be the 50th person in WVU history to score a thousand,” Williams said.
“I haven’t really been a point-oriented guy but that just comes with me grabbing my rebounds. It feels good to know I actually accomplished something.”
His other accomplishment? Mentoring Esa Ahmad with a thousand atta-boys. Ahmad’s inconsistent freshman season hasn’t satisfied the expectations of coaches or fans. Two years ago Williams himself was a big-time recruit from Ohio immediately wedged into a starting role while dealing with bouts of disillusionment and the fiery coaching of Bob Huggins.
“I know how Huggs can be, and I know how it feels to be a freshman, when you’re just lost,” Williams said. “Especially a guy who came in highly recruited like Esa, you don’t want to see a guy like that lose his confidence and be out of it.”
So when an uncle shared inspirational videos that resonated with Williams, he in turn shared them with Ahmad. The message involved “how to be the unstoppable you,” Williams said. “How to be the greatest version of yourself.”
The version of Ahmad who showed up vs. TCU was the best we’ve seen yet: Five rebounds, 6-of-6 at the line and several in-close finishes resulting in a season-high 14 points.
Ahmad’s contributions contrasted starkly to the scoreless game he endured five weeks ago against TCU in Fort Worth. He grabbed zero rebounds that night in 15 minutes and his only shot attempt was a 3-point miss.
With more prodding to attack the basket, and with coaches designing sets for the 6-foot-8 Ahmad to challenge the defense inside, maybe this new, greater version can help West Virginia withstand the inevitable stretches where its perimeter shooting goes frigid.
The Big 12 co-leaders barely scratched from 3-point range Saturday yet won by 31.