For nearly 32 minutes of Ohio State's win over Iowa on Sunday, Kam Williams was almost invisible, perhaps hurting his team more than he was helping during his time on the floor. Williams was 0 for 5 from the field and had struggled, at times, on the defensive end as the Buckeyes trailed the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes by five points and their already-slim NCAA tournament hopes looked quite bleak.
But with 8 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the game, Williams caught one of his own misses and immediately went right back up with another shot attempt and rattled home an elbow jumper for his first points of the game.
It was at that point ‘The Microwave’ officially started heating up.
Williams scored nine more points in what eventually turned into a 68-64 win for Ohio State. All 11 of his points came over that final 8:08 stretch of the game and he was just the spark the Buckeyes needed to help pull off the upset.
“We call him ‘The Microwave,’” Ohio State junior forward Marc Loving said of his teammate. “He comes off the bench and he just gets hot real quick. He doesn’t need a lot of space, so he can definitely fill it up in a heartbeat.”
Added Ohio State coach Thad Matta: “He kept fighting, fighting, fighting and was big for us down the stretch.”
This was hardly the first time this season Williams made such an impact, though. In fact, one could argue he has actually been the Buckeyes’ most consistent performer all year. Matta knows what he is getting from Williams from a production standpoint night in and night out off Ohio State’s bench and most games the redshirt sophomore guard has delivered.
Williams has come off the bench in all 30 games this year for the Buckeyes and is averaging 7.9 points per game while shooting 46.2 percent from behind the 3-point line. He has been even better in the Big Ten season, though, as his scoring average sits at 9.2 points per game in the conference with a 49.2 percent mark from downtown.
He is a guy who has earned a reputation as a big-time scorer off Ohio State’s bench and it certainly begs a question that must be asked: Is Williams the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year?
It certainly seems like a strong possibility, but first let’s examine some of the other candidates.
Max Bielfeldt — Indiana senior forward
A graduate transfer from Michigan, Bielfeldt has been somewhat of a savior this season for the Hoosiers in the frontcourt, providing some much-needed depth behind freshman Thomas Bryant. Bielfeldt is averaging 7.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game on the season and in Big Ten play he is posting 7.7 points and 4.7 boards per contest. Indiana has already claimed at least a share of the conference crown and it’s highly unlikely that happens without Bielfeldt’s contributions this season.
Isaac Haas — Purdue sophomore center
Haas has 15 starts this year for the Boilermakers, but throughout the majority of Big Ten play he has come off the bench in a reserve role behind A.J. Hammons. Still, the 7-foot-2 sophomore has made an enormous impact this season for Purdue. Haas is averaging 10.0 points per game and 4.0 rebounds overall, but those numbers fall a bit in the league at 8.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per contest.
Dom Uhl — Iowa sophomore forward
The Hawkeyes don't have a ton of depth, but Uhl has made his mark as one guy Iowa can depend on coming off the bench this season. The sophomore forward is averaging 6.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. In Big Ten play, Uhl is posting 6.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest.
Tai Webster — Nebraska junior guard
Webster has started more games than everybody on this list outside of Haas with 13, but he's more widely known around the Big Ten as the Huskers' top reserve. Webster is third on the team in scoring at 9.6 points per game. The big disadvantage here, obviously, is Nebraska's record and place in the conference standings. That puts a significant damper on the junior guard's hopes to take home the award.
There are strong arguments for all of these guys and it doesn’t appear there is one clear-cut winner for this postseason award. Williams certainly seems like one of the favorites, though.
Right now there may be a slight edge for Bielfeldt because of Indiana’s team success. The Hoosiers have already clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title and can win it outright with just one more victory. He has been a vital part of Indiana’s somewhat surprising success in the league this season.
But so has Williams. He almost single-handedly won Ohio State’s game at Northwestern back on Jan. 6 with a 21-point performance. He scored 14 first-half points in the Buckeyes’ loss to Purdue, helping Ohio State almost score an upset of the Boilermakers. He had 10 points in the Buckeyes’ win over Michigan two weeks back.
Williams has been in double figures in eight of Ohio State’s 17 Big Ten games thus far.
Sunday was just the latest chapter in what’s been a sensational redshirt sophomore season for the Baltimore native. And it just might end with an award as the Big Ten’s best player coming off the bench.
“I’m a pretty confident basketball player so I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing no matter what,” Williams said. “I don’t care if I’m 0-for-10, 0-for-20, I’m going to just keep doing what I do. Just because I’m missing shots doesn’t mean I have to stop being aggressive.”