UM hoops forward paid his own way over summer, now is paving the way

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — When Michigan needed a big basket during the second half against Buffalo, it wasn’t All-America center Hunter Dickinson who continuously came through.

Nor did any of the team’s veteran guards or prized freshmen deliver when the Wolverines’ 21-point lead was chopped down to single digits.

Rather, it was sophomore forward Terrance Williams II who stepped up time and again to help stave off the feisty Bulls’ charge in Wednesday’s 88-76 season-opening win at Crisler Center.

"He's a good player. That's what he does,” said Dickinson, who grew up playing with and against Williams in the Washington, D.C. area. “He's a clutch player. You know what you're going to get from him. He's not going to make too many mistakes out there because he has a high IQ.

"He's somebody that coach definitely relies on in the clutch and can depend on. That's something that I've seen from him ever since we were 8 years old. For me, it's nothing new.”

Michigan forward Terrance Williams II (5) scored a career-high 15 points and made several key buckets in Wednesday's win over Buffalo.

But for Williams, it was at the college level. As a freshman last year, Williams admitted he would’ve been hesitant to take the same shots he did Wednesday. His focus was on making hustle plays and he would’ve looked to others — like Chaundee Brown, Isaiah Livers, Mike Smith and Franz Wagner — to score in those situations.

With all those scoring options gone, Williams trusted all the hours he spent in the offseason improving his game and put it upon himself to make the plays when they mattered the most.

When Buffalo used a strong start out of halftime to cut the deficit to seven, Williams quelled the momentum by soaring in for an offensive putback off an airballed hook shot from Dickinson.

When the Bulls mustered another run and pulled within six, Williams posted up, went to work and knocked down a tough step-back jumper over a defender late in shot clock.

And when Buffalo made one last push and trimmed the lead to five with under six minutes to play, Williams turned in a pivotal sequence. After walling up and forcing a missed shot at the basket, he knocked down a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer in transition that “took the heart from them” and sparked a game-sealing 12-2 run.

“I feel like the position I was in, whether it was the post-up or the 3, I just feel like I worked on that in the summertime and the fall and showed that in those moments,” said Williams, who posted career highs in points (15) and minutes (29) and made more 3-pointers (two) than he did all of last season (one).    

“That’s really all it was, just the work I put in. I trust myself to make those plays down the stretch.”

That type of self-belief waned last year. Last month, Williams said he lacked confidence at times as a freshman and would start to overthink when he’d miss a couple shots.

However, that hasn’t been an issue leading into this season. According to Dickinson, the biggest change in Williams from Year 1 to 2 has been the renewed confidence he’s playing with.

“Last year he was a really good defender, but I think offensively — I wouldn't say shy but less aggressive than he was normally was back in high school,” Dickinson said. “I think this year he knows he needs to be more aggressive for us because we don't have the scoring from Isaiah and Franz. We're really excited that he's being aggressive because he's a really good offensive player for us and just such a smart, savvy player.”

Above all, Williams’ career night was a culmination of all the work he put in when no one was watching, a point he reiterated numerous times Wednesday. He put up countless shots on a daily basis to refine his jump shot and focused on continuously flicking his wrist after noticing much of his 3-point attempts came up short last year.

He put in a lot of two-a-days with strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson — “A lot of VersaClimber, squatting and body weight stuff,” Williams said — to improve his body. After changing his eating habits and shedding 10 pounds, he’s moving better and doesn’t get tired like he did during his brief stints as a freshman.

“I love this summer how he came in early. Before class started, I think he was in, maybe, a month early,” coach Juwan Howard said. “He paid his own way. Stayed in an apartment and paid his own way with that. Came in and transformed his body, trimming down and buying into the culture since Day 1. Changed his diet. He also worked extremely hard on his game. Coach knows it, staff knew it, his teammates saw it.”

And on Wednesday, everyone got to see the same Williams that Dickinson has seen plenty of times before.

“I’m going to continue to do what’s best for the team no matter the situation, no matter the role I play,” said Williams, who saw time at the two, three and four positions. “(Wednesday) it just happened to be scoring. Some days it might not fall but I’m going to continue to play defense, continue to rebound the way I did. I’m just trying to put it all together and do whatever it takes to win.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins