Friday, February 9, 2024

Jeremiah Williams providing a big lift for Rutgers

photo courtesy of USA Today

After overcoming a serious Achilles injury in the offseason and ruled eligible to play by the NCAA as of last week, the transfer guard made his debut and has given Rutgers basketball life.

by Mark Remsa

It was only nine days ago when Rutgers suffered an embarrassing 15-point home loss, perhaps the worst of the season, to lowly Penn State in front of an electric crowd at The RAC. Rutgers played its worst basketball and the backcourt proved to be no match for Penn State as Rutgers’ guards committed a combined 11 turnovers, caving under pressure to the Nittany Lions defense.

Desperate to end a three-game skid, Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell began searching for answers and ways for his team to win going forward. He certainly found them in transfer guard Jeremiah Williams.

After not playing for nearly two years due to an Achilles injury and finally being ruled eligible to play by the NCAA, Jeremiah Williams returned to the hardwood and became the catalyst behind Rutgers’ most recent back-to-back road wins against Michigan and Maryland.

The veteran guard never missed a step in his first game back in action this past Saturday against Michigan as Pikiell immediately inserted Williams into the starting lineup with Derek Simpson, Jamichael Davis, Mawot Mag, and Cliff Omoruyi.

The move by Pikiell turned out to be a brilliant one.

It was a surprising move to say the least but Pikiell knows his team best. After all, Williams had been practicing with the team since the summer. The Knight Report's very own Richie Schnyderite had been highly impressed with Williams after watching him in-person during several preseason workouts leading up to the season.

Williams showed very little signs of rust and played 30 minutes, scored 10 points, generated 2 assists, and grabbed 6 rebounds. Williams showed confidence on the floor and was fearless while under control when attacking the basket. Williams used his speed to help dictate pace in transition and also distributed the basketball with crisp ball movement and making smart decisions.

In his second game of the season, Williams helped engineer an improbable road victory over Maryland as the Chicago native scored 14 points, shot 5/9 from the field, drilled two clutch 3-point shots, remained perfect from the free-throw line, grabbed five rebounds, and was a defensive pest, hounding the Terrapins on virtually every possession.

With 34 seconds left in regulation, Williams scored on the most important layup of the game with 0.1 seconds left on the shot-clock to give Rutgers a 54-51 lead, which ultimately helped propel the Scarlet Knights to victory.

What was also remarkable about Williams’ play against Maryland was his ability to play hard-nosed, unrelenting defense with four personal fouls for 11 minutes in the second half, and never fouling out of the game.

After the game, Maryland head coach Kevin Willard spoke highly of Williams adding, “their [Rutgers] addition of Jeremiah Williams totally changes their team.”

Since Williams’ return this past week, Rutgers has played noticeably better. The offense may not be significantly improved, but Williams is showing veteran leadership on the floor and he’s helping those around him rise to a higher level as his teammates have fed off of his energy.

Williams has been instrumental in helping create plays and opportunities for scoring by utilizing his awareness and vision, something the backcourt has been lacking in the games before him. His ability to navigate the lanes has also helped Mawot Mag and Cliff Omoruyi receive passes closer to the basket with better looks to score.

Not only has Williams been a big boost on the offensive end, but he’s been key in helping Rutgers defend opposing teams’ guards better by quickly moving on ball handlers with suffocating pressure and providing defensive help with his teammates to force turnovers.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Steve Pikiell and Rutgers will need every bit out of Williams to help Rutgers possibly go on an improbable run and possibly earn a postseason berth.

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