The lights dropped inside Value City Arena and the biggest crowd of the season was focused on the scoreboard.
It was moments before No. 17 Ohio State played Illinois on Sunday afternoon, and the customary pregame hype video was being shown seconds before the Buckeyes starters were to be introduced.
There in the first shot is the team’s longest-tenured player, fifth-year senior guard Kam Williams, declaring, “We play for each other.”
With a chance to remain one game behind Purdue in the Big Ten standings entering a road game Wednesday, Williams wasn’t able to live up to that pledge. Two hours before the opening tip, Williams was announced as having been suspended indefinitely by coach Chris Holtmann for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
So while he was on the scoreboard and on the court hours before the game putting in a workout, he was nowhere to be found as the Buckeyes overcame an upset challenge from the Fighting Illini before winning 75-67.
After the game, Holtmann did not indicate when Williams would return, only that he likely will.
“We expect him back at some point, but it’s really going to be a kind of day-to-day decision,” Holtmann said. “At this point, he needs to do some things and we need to have more conversations. Until I feel comfortable with that, I don’t expect him to play but it’s a day-to-day situation.”
A source indicated to The Dispatch that Williams was expected to miss somewhere between three to five games and that the suspension has nothing to do with any sort of sexual assault or violence.
In 126 career games, Williams has averaged 7.7 points while shooting 40.3 percent from three-point range. This season, he had started 16 of the first 24 games and was sixth in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage (46.3 percent) while averaging 8.0 points.
His absence forced Holtmann to juggle his rotations, bringing sophomore Andre Wesson into the starting lineup for the first time. The starting lineup of Jae’Sean Tate, C.J. Jackson, Wesson, Keita Bates-Diop and Kaleb Wesson had not been used all season.
It also has an unseen impact in the locker room of a tightknit group that has grossly outperformed all preseason predictions for Holtmann’s first season.
When asked if the Buckeyes felt let down by Williams, Bates-Diop said yes, “but we don’t want to dwell on that or make him feel horribly bad about it. We’ll get him back eventually. I don’t know exactly when, but we can’t focus on him or be mad at him the whole time. We’ve got to focus on, when it happened, Illinois, and now we’ve got to focus on Purdue.”
Holtmann said the plan is for Williams to make the trip to Purdue with the team but did not offer any indication as to whether he will play. The Buckeyes knew for certain that Williams would be out Saturday, and the players practiced for the Illinois game without including him in the plans that day, Bates-Diop said.
Multiple times, Holtmann said the timetable for Williams return would be determined by the coaching staff.
“I think everyone was disappointed, Kam included, because listen, this is special, what this group is doing right now,” Holtmann said. “I mean, this is special. I don’t ever want to take that for granted. To have a little bit of a hiccup with a guy who’s really been a big part of it, he’s an important part of it, I think is frustrating. It’s disappointing. I know he’s frustrated and disappointed and we’ll see how he responds, but I give our guys that played today and everybody that was there credit for being able to gut this one out.
“We’ll see how it impacts us moving forward and we’ll see how quickly we decide to have Kam back.”