BOISE, Idaho – Kam Williams has never been one to shy away from a big-time shot.
On Thursday, he hit arguably the biggest shot of his life.
With South Dakota State on a 10-0 run to knot the game at 70, Ohio State's fifth-year senior came off a screen from Keita Bates-Diop and drilled his second 3-pointer of the game, while also drawing the foul.
The shot, plus the free throw, gave Ohio State a lead it wouldn't relinquish again, as the Buckeyes picked up their first tournament victory since 2015, 81-73 over the Jackrabbits. Williams would add three additional free throws after being fouled on another three-point attempt just moments later, finishing with a season-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
After the game, multiple players and coaches said the game-winning play was one that was put in during Ohio State's week off specifically for Williams, who cashed in on his chance to make a play.
"We drew it up specifically for him. We didn't have it in the bag until two days ago," Holtmann said.
Ohio State has run a similar action in the past, however. Buckeye fans might remember a similar shot that Williams hit against Rutgers that also resulted in a four-point play. This time, though, the play was specifically drawn up for Williams by assistant coach Ryan Pedon.
Pedon said in the locker room after the game that while he drew the play up in practice, Williams deserves the credit for knocking down what is arguably the biggest shot of Ohio State's season.
"Coach Holtmann says it all the time and we believe it; it's a players' game, and players win games," Pedon said. "Kam on that particular play made that shot. So give him credit. As coaches, we try to put guys in the best possible positions, but players win games, and Kam helped us do that especially down the stretch."
Williams, who has scored in double digits in each of Ohio State's last four contests, said that he isn't any more confident in his shot now than he normally would be because of the amount of time he spends in the gym.
"Not to sound cocky, but I am in the gym so much that I feel like every shot is going to go in," Williams said. "My confidence doesn't really rise or dip."
While Williams poured in 22, the rest of the Ohio State backcourt also performed well in the victory over South Dakota State. C.J. Jackson scored 11 of his 20 points in the second half while Andrew Dakich tied with Williams for a game-high three steals.
Jackson said coming into the game, Holtmann had told the guards to stay aggressive on the offensive end, and the OSU backcourt took it to heart. Williams, Jackson and Dakich combined for 41 of Ohio State's 72 shot attempts, while Keita Bates-Diop added another 19.
“Not to sound cocky, but I am in the gym so much, that I feel like every shot is going to go in. My confidence doesn't really rise or dip.”– Kam Williams
"Coach preached to us how we have to be aggressive today, because they have a defense that just plays solid and tough, so we had to be aggressive more than usual," Jackson said. "It doesn't start from this game. This starts from November and December. He has been saying all year, 'Just keep believing in yourself and the next play,' and that is kind of where it shows later in the season, and that's what happened today."
Even Dakich, who shot just 1-of-7 from the floor, contributed a number of critical plays. As previously mentioned, he collected three steals, three assists, four rebounds and two late free throws to help salt the game away for the Buckeyes.
Bates-Diop said in the postgame locker room that the production Dakich gave Ohio State doesn't surprise him at this point in the season.
"He is big. He does those little things that don't show up in the stat sheet. Obviously steals do, but the (other) little things," Bates-Diop said. "His swiping and his activity on and off the ball was big for us and kind of disrupted their offense."
Ohio State's guard play will likely prove to be critical again on Saturday, when the Buckeyes are set for a rematch with No. 4 seed Gonzaga. OSU dropped a contest to the Bulldogs by 27 points in late November in the PK80 Invitational.
Time and TV network for Saturday's game will be released later Thursday night. Stay tuned to Eleven Warriors for additional NCAA Tournament coverage throughout the weekend.