COLUMBUS — Go all the way back to Nov. 16 — the Michigan men’s basketball team’s third game of the season against Seton Hall at Crisler Center. Down by two, Terrance Williams II stood at the free-throw line with one second remaining, the game on his fingers.
The sophomore forward, a 55% free throw shooter the year prior, promptly missed his first attempt, sealing the Wolverines’ first loss of what many expected to be a season in which they would contend for a championship.
Nearly four months later — with Michigan falling leaps and bounds short of those expectations — Williams once again stepped up to the charity stripe, this time boasting a four-point lead with 10 seconds to go. In a hostile road environment, it was a game the Wolverines almost certainly needed to win to preserve their NCAA Tournament hopes.
Staring down the barrel of the Ohio State student section, Williams calmly collected himself and knocked down both shots, icing the victory.
The two free throws capped off a 17-point performance in which the typically-streaky Williams put it all together. And with sophomore center Hunter Dickinson out with a stomach ailment, it came when Michigan desperately needed someone to step up.
“(Hunter’s) roommate on the road is Terrance Williams,” Michigan acting head coach Phil Martelli said. “By osmosis, did (Williams) become a scorer? I’m just saying.”
Entering the season, Williams set out to become a better 3-point shooter. After connecting on just 1-of-12 attempts as a freshman, he recognized that his path to more playing time was on the wing, where the Wolverines needed to replace multiple important pieces.
For stretches of the season, it’s been a mixed bag from long range for Williams, but on Sunday, he caught fire. He connected on his first three shots — all from deep — twice making the Buckeyes pay for giving him space in transition.
“Just staying confident, staying in the game,” Williams said. “I’ve been doing that all year, but lately it’s been falling for me.”
According to Martelli, though, none of those shots were his most important of the game. Nor were his two late free throws. Instead, it was a pull-up jumper he hit right before halftime.
Eight consecutive points put Ohio State up by nine with 20 seconds remaining in the half, and when graduate guard DeVante’ Jones found no space in the paint for a drive, the play broke down and he kicked it out to Williams up top. With one dribble and a quick release, Williams sent Michigan into the locker room with a smidgen of momentum.
“I think the biggest basket of the game was Terrance Williams at half,” Martelli said. “I think that bucket lifted our team.”
Williams took more of a backseat in the second half, but the confidence he gained from his impressive first-half showing was clear. Rather than forcing shots to try to continue his hot streak from deep, Williams picked his moments carefully. When he got his chances, he went up strong in the post or drove to the basket for an easy finish.
When all was said and done, Williams still exuded that confidence. As he walked down the tunnel after the final buzzer sounded, he reveled in the jeers of Buckeye fans. And as Williams egged them on, a well-earned smile came across his face.
After a season full of inconsistency, Williams provided the Wolverines with the bench scorer they’ve sorely missed when they needed it most.
“Ever since he’s come to Michigan, he’s kept his head up,” Martelli said. “Whatever his role is, he does it with dignity.
“And I’m happy for him, because when we got Terrance to come, I felt that he was a young guy that could impact winning. And he certainly impacted winning during this stretch.”