BOISE, Idaho — Pay attention, ye disciples of Ohio State hoops, as basketball prophet Andrew Dakich foretells the fate of the Buckeyes’ NCAA Tournament opener against South Dakota State.
“If anyone is going to hit that shot, it’s Kam,” Dakich said of the shot by senior Kam Williams on Thursday that allowed Ohio State to escape with an 81-73 win at Taco Bell Arena.
OK, technically Dakich did not predict Williams’ three-point basket, which became a four-point play when the shooting guard was fouled and made the free throw to turn a 70-70 tie into a 74-70 lead with 1:36 to play.
Let’s call it post-prognostication. Dakich knew it was coming. He sees things.
“Kam kind of jumps out,” Dakich said of Williams’ shooting technique, which helped the shooting guard draw the foul. “He’s always going forward, not upward.”
Always going forward. That is divine foreshadowing, because those paying attention to Williams’ career know he always keeps moving ahead. Against all odds.
Williams could have called it quits after losing his starting job (on several occasions). He could have waved goodbye like so many of the players who left Ohio State prematurely since his arrival in 2013, either because they became disgruntled or decided the program was not the right fit.
The Baltimore native could have thrown in the towel this season when Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann suspended him three games for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
But he stayed, the idea being to keep moving toward something better.
And something better finally arrived Thursday in the form of a four-point play, followed 27 seconds later by three consecutive free throws, compliments of getting whacked again while attempting a 3-ball, that iced the win for the Buckeyes. Next: Gonzaga on Saturday. A tough one.
“He knew his time would come,” Dakich said of Williams, who finished with 22 points. “He’s been through the thick and thin of things.”
I never expected Williams to be the one to extend Ohio State’s season one more game. I doubted. To Williams’ credit, he never did.
“I’ve been waiting for a moment like this all season,” he said, moments after being summoned by coaches and teammates to place an Ohio State nameplate on the winners line of the cardboard bracket in the locker room, signaling the Buckeyes had advanced to the second round. “I’ve been through some ups and downs, everything I’ve endured here at Ohio State, it’s been a tough road. To have something like this happen is a blessing.”
Good for him. Perseverance is a diminishing character trait. Look around. College players are transferring at a higher rate than ever; about 40 percent who enter Division I directly out of high school depart their initial school by the end of their sophomore year. Williams has stuck it out.
“I’m really happy for him. He’s had some rough patches in his career here,” Holtmann said.
It is a testament to Williams’ work habits — he often returns to the Schottenstein Center practice facility after midnight to work on his shooting — and Holtmann’s loyalty to a player who can be challenging that the OSU coaching staff turned to Williams to save the day against the Jackrabbits, a No. 12 seed looking to upset the No. 5 Buckeyes.
“Players wins games,” Holtmann said. “And moments before (Williams’ tiebreaking shot) I said, ‘Someone has got to be ready to make a play.’ We were too tentative. Kam’s the guy we try to run something for coming out of a timeout … and he had that sparkle in his eyes. He wanted to be in that moment.”
As usual, Dakich had the last word: “I’m not surprised Kam hit it. He lives for those moments.”
And now the Buckeyes live to fight another day.