News that Ohio State fifth-year senior Kam Williams was suspended from Sunday’s game against Illinois for violating team rules felt like travel through a time machine.
One minute you’re sipping a skinny latte circa 2018; the next you transport to the dark ages, where bearded fellows wielding battle axes and crossbows are waiting in the woods. And not to hand you coffee.
Except these dark ages occurred only a season ago, not so distant that you cannot remember what it felt like. Grim. Those were the Buckeyes of Judge Judy. Who is right? Who was wrong? The Buckeyes of accusations, wounded egos and questionable effort.
This felt like that. Ohio State, enjoying a surprisingly splendid season, suddenly faces something of a reckoning. Not because Williams’ court production has been off the charts — the 6-foot-2 guard averages 8.0 points — but because here was drama reminiscent of what OSU men’s basketball history will come to call the Matta Medieval era, when Thad’s enlightened run hit the wall.
How would the current bunch of Buckeyes, led by national coach of the year candidate Chris Holtmann, handle the hurt and disappointment associated with losing Williams, whose status remains unclear. Dispatch Ohio State beat writer Adam Jardy reports that Williams is expected to miss three to five games for a violation of team rules, including a game Wednesday at No. 3 Purdue.
For a team already thin at guard, losing Williams means more stress on the backcourt, especially when scoring is needed.
“It eliminates our depth a little bit,” Holtmann said of Williams. “He’s so efficient with time and spacing from 15 feet or behind the three-point line, so it eliminates (a defender) having to know where he is at.”
Without Williams, teams will double down on Keita Bates-Diop, which could create issues considering KBD is OSU’s main offensive weapon. The junior stepped up nicely against Illinois, scoring a career-high 35 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a 75-67 win.
But even as Bates-Diop posed a matchup problem for the Illini, the overall sense was this is what we thought the Buckeyes would look like when the season began: KBD needing to put up big offensive numbers for Ohio State to survive against even mediocre opponents; struggles with perimeter shooting (3 of 16 from three-point range against Illinois); and inconsistent guard play.
To channel Dennis Green, against Illinois the Buckeyes are who we thought they were at season’s start. With one significant exception. This team owns enough of a steel backbone that it does not panic when things look bleak — Illinois led 30-15 midway through the first half — and have shown a propensity to finish strong.
Ohio State had every excuse to crumble against the Illini. With Williams out, would the Buckeyes’ confidence collapse in the face of an internal setback that hearkened to shades of seasons past?
“We’re family and we accept whatever happens,” Bates-Diop said of losing Williams. “It hurts a little bit, but we have faith (Andre Wesson, who started in place of Williams) would come up big and he did. … I don’t want to dwell or be mad at (Williams) the whole time.”
If KBD’s words do not ring differently from previous seasons, you have not been paying attention to where this program has been and where it is headed. Are the Buckeyes worse without Williams? Absolutely.
This is not a deeply talented team that can afford to lose a player who contributes 22.3 minutes a game. But Ohio State is better without Williams than it would have been without him last season. Drama, it seems, no longer is a dark and scary walk through the woods.