On a night where not much went well for Syracuse on the basketball court, there was a lot that went well for freshman forward Benny Williams. A former top-40 recruit, Williams posted career-highs with 14 points and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes of action against Duke.
It was the most—and best—he’s played in a Syracuse uniform and with the Orange in need of athleticism to battle Duke’s front-court, Williams delivered. Perhaps the advice of a former star Syracuse forward made a difference before tip-off.
“Honestly, D-Nic [Demetris Nichols] told me at shoot-around I had nothing to lose, everything to gain. So I just went out and played as hard as I can and it went in my favor,” Williams said. “I still got a lot more plays to make though.”
Williams thinks the practice repetitions have been helping him lately within the 2-3 zone, closing out on Syracuse’s bevy of shooters. He has shown flashes of his potential with athleticism around the rim on offense and weak side blocks within the zone on the other end, but his head coach noted that he still needs to rotate back to the middle faster when the ball enters the high-post.
“I think Benny can get there. He’s not there. He actually had a good practice yesterday,” Jim Boeheim said post-game. “But I thought tonight we got him the backdoor early. He made his jumper. He’s struggled shooting it, he’s been shooting it a little better in practice.”
Williams has struggled to get going at various points this season. He’s the only freshman on the Syracuse roster and represents the lone man in a one-man recruiting class. He’s worked hard, but he chalks this season up to a learning experience.
“Obviously it wasn’t the way I was planning it to go,” Williams said. “In the middle of the season I started to notice, like, ‘This is going to be a learning experience for me.’ And try to make it work next year.”
“I think he can be a good player. He’s got to learn how to play the system and he’s got to play harder and he’s got to rebound. He’s gotta go get the ball. He can do that but it’s just not there this year,” Boeheim said. “And that happens a lot. There’s some really, really good players—top 20 players—at Gonzaga, a couple other schools that aren’t playing. Sometimes the first year is tough.”
Despite his struggles, Williams won over Syracuse fans earlier in the season by saying he was going to work through it, refusing to transfer at the end of the season. Asked if he still has that same sentiment, Williams replied with a resounding yes.
“Yes,” Williams said with a wide smile, “I will be here next year.”