Da’Monte Williams shines as Illinois men’s basketball scrapes by Northwestern 

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Photo Courtesy of Illinois Athletics

Senior guard Da’Monte Williams celebrates during Illinois men’s basketball’s game at Northwestern on Saturday. Despite having five points, Williams came up with nine rebounds and was a big reason why the Illini came out of Evanston with a 59-56 win.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Senior guard Da’Monte Williams refused to lose to Northwestern. Williams scored just five points in No. 24 Illinois’ win in Evanston on Saturday, but his impact was significant. 

The Peoria native grabbed a game-high nine rebounds in his 32 minutes of play, one of which resulted in a putback slam over a trio of Northwestern defenders. 

“I knew they were gonna double Kofi or potentially everybody be in the paint on him,” Williams said. “That was one of my chances to offensive rebound, and we needed it.”

Williams’ putback slam came shortly after he made two free throws to tie the game late in the second half. The slam gave Illinois a two-point lead with 94 seconds left in the game, and it was his only field goal attempt.

In a defensive battle in which each team shot below 50% from the field, Williams’ strengths shined bright. 

He went 3-4 from the free throw line and added three assists, but above all he executed difficult defensive assignments, and his head coach noticed.

“Da’Monte Williams doesn’t look fancy on here (holding stat sheet),” said head coach Brad Underwood. “But all he did was get nine rebounds, guard the other team’s best player, who was five inches taller than him, most of the night, come up with some great rebounds and the one that helped put us over the top.”

This is nothing new for Williams. Last week Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo compared him to former Spartan standout Draymond Green. Green did the dirty work role under Izzo and built a Hall of Fame career out of it. It’s high praise for Williams.

Williams’ lack of scoring prowess would surprise someone who hadn’t seen him play since his days at Manual High School.

He attacked ruthlessly back then. With the ball in his hands often, Williams was able to dominate with athleticism. Since coming to Illinois, he has taken a back seat to other scorers.

Ironically, it was at Manual that Williams developed his defensive skills and mindset, he says. Then he knew he wouldn’t get on the court as a freshman without playing defense, and he now knows that it’s necessary to win.

“You know it’s all on the line to win, and I try to put us in a good position to win,” Williams said. “Just being locked in and knowing the scouting report, really. I mean we been here for a while. That’s one thing Coach Underwood really gets on us about. We try to lead and not make any scouting report mistakes.”

On playing against players significantly taller and heavier than him, Williams had this to say.

“I always played against people older, taller, stronger and bigger than me my whole life,” Williams said. “That’s probably where it comes from. Growing up I was already playing with people that was already in high school or college. … Really just being able to play in games with those guys and learn with them.”

Williams has won many games for the Illini, but players who don’t score often rarely stand out at the moment. This time he got the credit he deserved, for doing what he always does.

 

@JonesChristianT

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