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Just 21 seconds into the second half against Northwestern, the Michigan men’s basketball team called on its bench.

After junior forward Terrance Williams II allowed a Wildcat to snatch an offensive rebound out of his hand and subsequently fouled him, Michigan coach Juwan Howard made a substitution, benching the starter and captain. 

The move wasn’t unprecedented given Williams’ disappointing season thus far. That disillusionment stems from the high expectations that surrounded Williams coming into his third season. With the departure of four of last year’s starters and an influx of inexperienced freshmen, Williams seemed poised to finally take the leap to the next level.

But halfway through the season, that belief is rapidly losing merit.

Despite stepping into a starting role and playing 28.1 minutes per game — twice as much as last season — he hasn’t proven he’s maximized that uptick. Williams’ field goal and 3-point percentages have declined drastically from last year — from 45.5% to 36.5% and 38.5% to 29.8%, respectively — and his defense has proven to be a liability at times so far this season. 

With such a young team, high production from Michigan’s veterans is not the end all, be all. What is integral though, is leadership. A strong leader isn’t always the highest scorer nor the player who fills the stats sheet. A strong leader is a role model and, at times, it has seemed like Williams understood that responsibility.

“(Dickinson and I) are the leader veterans and coach looks to us when times are rough,” Williams said after a win over Eastern Michigan Nov. 11. “… We have to come and bring energy as leaders.”

But actions speak louder than words, and since that victory in November, his actions have fallen short. The diligence and intensity that Williams exhibits sets the tone for his younger teammates. Against Eastern Michigan — where he collected his career-high 11 rebounds — he showed the impact he can bring with strong rebounding prowess and high energy exertion giving the Wolverines extra opportunities. But those moments have been few and far between. When he sets a strong example, others follow suit. When he doesn’t, which has been the case often, his presence is obsolete.  

That was the case in the second half on Sunday, when his lethargic display compelled Howard to replace him before Michigan had even touched the ball. And when the switch was made, the Wolverines found their groove. Despite their underclassmen status, redshirt freshman forward Will Tschetter and freshman forward Tarris Reed Jr. both stepped up in Williams’ absence. Their energy and intensity helped Michigan find the push it needed on both ends.

“Give credit to Will (Tschetter) coming in in the second half, bringing his energy and toughness,” Howard said Sunday. “And when you look at the last 11 minutes of the ballgame with Tarris and Hunter on the floor, … I see that there’s gonna be some times when we have to go to that lineup. (It can) be a difference maker for us on the defensive end as well as for rebounding.”

Relegated to the bench, Sunday was a low for Williams. But just because Howard looked elsewhere for a half doesn’t mean that’s the standard going forward — Williams can still prove that he brings value. On Thursday, when the Wolverines travel to his home state of Maryland, Williams can do just that.

“It’s game by game. It’s ‘what’s the right matchup and what’s the right sets that we can run,’ ” associate head coach Phil Martelli said. “… Our depth is still evolving, our lineups are still evolving, and they will be really predicated in game-by-game matchups.”

With Tschetter and Reed finding their respective roles, Williams no longer has secure playing time at the ‘4.’ As Michigan determines what the right matchups are, Williams has to get back to the leader he’s at times seemed capable of being.

Against the Terrapins, his hometown school, he can do exactly that. And maybe a homecoming is just what he needs to figure out his game.