Despite limited touches, ‘J3’ making big impact on court

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Wearing his stylish glasses and decked out in

sports coat and tie for his media guide profile, Missouri’s Johnathan

Williams III doesn’t look the part of lunch-pail role player. Aspiring

accountant, perhaps, but definitely not a garbage-collector type.

At

208 pounds, according to the media guide, anyway, Williams lacks the

bulk typically required to thrive as a banger in the low post. And

considering the 6-foot-9 freshman from Memphis came to Missouri with the

loftiest credentials of any recruit in recent history, you would expect

him to make his mark more as a scorer than rebounder.

Williams

certainly possesses the skills to become a big-time point producer

someday. But until that day arrives, he’s figured out how he can make an

impact in any game.

While taking just five shots, the

young man his teammates call “J3” proved as important as any player on

the floor in the Tigers’ 80-71 victory over No. 18 UCLA on Saturday.

Williams grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, blocked two shots and altered

numerous others and, despite limited touches in Missouri’s

guard-oriented offense, managed to score 10 points and finish with his

second double-double.

After UCLA coach Steve Alford was

asked about the Tigers’ terrific trio of Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown

and Earnest Ross, all of whom topped 20 points, he brought up Williams

on his own.

“He was as big a key as anything,” Alford said.
Especially in the second half, when Missouri rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit.
Williams

appeared to be headed for a third consecutive non-productive game after

a first half he finished with two points and five rebounds. But after a

little halftime motivation from coach Frank Haith, Williams took over

inside for much of the second half. In one stretch, he scored six points

on offensive rebounds, including two on free throws with 9:30 remaining

that gave Missouri a lead, 62-60, that it would keep the rest of the

way.

“Coach lit a fire under him,” said Brown, who led the Tigers with 22 points. “He went out there and played inspired basketball.”
He

wasn’t the only one. UCLA, which came in averaging 90.6 points, was on

its way to its norm during a 45-point first half when it made 15 of 30

shots, including five of 12 3-pointers. But then the Tigers turned up

the defense. The Bruins (8-1) went 0 for 8 on 3-pointers and 8 for 31

overall after intermission to finish with their lowest output of the

season.

“Give Missouri a lot of credit,” Alford

said. “They got us out of what we normally like to do. The first half

we did the things we’ve been doing all year — we played with good pace,

we shared the ball, we were pretty active defensively. In the second

half … we didn’t do those things.”

The

victory was the first by an SEC team over a ranked team this season and

left Missouri (9-0) as the conference’s only unbeaten team. It also

extended the Tigers’ home winning streak to 24 games, longest in the

nation, and their non-conference winning streak to 79 games.

“I

thought we turned the ball over way too much in the first half (12

turnovers), so there were a lot of buckets in the transition in the

first half,” Haith said. “Once we were able to set our defense and

guard, we were going to be OK. This team has really improved

defensively.”

Williams has been a key reason

why. A starter since the first game, Williams has endured his share of

rookie ups and downs. He had 17 rebounds against Gardner-Webb and a

double-double against IUPUI, but scored a total of two points with eight

rebounds against Nevada and West Virginia.

He

not only has had to adjust to the faster, more physical college game, he

has had to settle into a role far different than he had last year, when

he averaged 18.9 points and led Southwind High to a Tennessee state

title.

“That’s hard for a freshman,” Haith

said. “He was the guy, he was able to shoot 3s and do a lot of different

things. When you go to college, you have to understand your role.

That’s why you see freshmen take a while to get adjusted to play to help

their team win. He’s doing a great job of understanding that’s what we

need him to do for us in order to win.”

Even if he doesn’t look the part.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter (@stanmcneal) or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.