The Jacksonville State senior guard courageously played 34 minutes Wednesday. He scored a career-high 25 points and keyed a second-half surge that lifted the Gamecocks to a 78-66 matinee win over Division II Fort Valley State.
The preseason All-OVC pick also had a career-high eight rebounds and five assists. Not bad for a guy basically playing on one arm since hurting his shoulder in practice the day before the Gamecocks’ home opener against Alabama State.
“In the game when the adrenaline’s pumping, you don’t really feel it; it’s the after-the-game effect, when things calm down; that’s when it’s the worst,” Williams said. “It’s not (sore) now, not as much as it’s going to be when I wake up. It’s a nuisance.”
Williams left the floor Wednesday three minutes into the game after jarring his shoulder into a double pick, but he was an even bigger pain for the Wildcats (3-4). He scored 17 of his points in the second half, 15 in the final 11 minutes after the Gamecocks fell behind by nine.
“We were short, I knew I had to give it my all to my team and let it hurt later on,” he said. “We know it’s going to hurt us worse (after playing), but we’d rather sacrifice for our team to get that ultimate goal of a win.”
Williams wasn’t the only JSU regular making his way through injury. Leading scorer Darion Rackley stayed on the bench with a sore groin until coach James Green very reluctantly sent him in at the 11:00 mark. Rackley scored only one point, but his presence on the floor was invaluable.
And post Jamal Hunter worked through a hip issue and foul trouble to score 11 points. He hit five free throws in the final six minutes to keep the Gamecocks headed toward their third straight win.
“I thought the key to the game was (Williams’) play down the stretch along with D-Rack,” Green said. “It’d be hard to see what D-Rack did for us out there, but he just gave us that stability. There’s a lot on those two guys to provide that for us, in particular in games you should win. They have to be the ones to step up.”
With Rackley out, the Gamecocks looked to Giovanni Smith and the soft-spoken senior delivered with a career-high 14 points — all in the first half.
Williams only asked him for “two or three 3s,” but Smith hit his first four to counter the Wildcats’ prowess behind the arc. Three of them came in a five-minute stretch that included a 14-0 run and took the Gamecocks (3-5) from four down to nine ahead and eventually a 36-33 halftime lead.
“I just played my role,” said Smith, who learned of his start right after pre-game warm-ups. “They told me I’m a catch-and-shoot guy so every time I caught it and I felt comfortable I just shot it.
“After I saw the first one went in I just said try to make the next one. The other one went in and it felt like I was flowing so I just kept shooting until I missed.”
The Wildcats rode their hot shooting to a 56-47 lead with 11:00 to play. They were 23 of 36 from the floor at the time, but only 3 of 15 the rest of the way and 2 of 11 after the Gamecocks tied it at 58 with 6:38 to go.
“I thought they played well and were intense in what they were doing; we just don’t defend,” Green said. “We don’t choke people with our defense yet. We just have to take it to heart that we’re going to have to be a tougher basketball team.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.