Keith Williams, featured in an earlier game this season, scored his 1.00. Career point and led the Bearcats to a 64-61 win over Tulane in New Orleans on Sunday. (Photo: Phil Didion / The Investigator)
Back in October, the University of Cincinnati basketball head coach John Brannen joked that senior striker Keith Williams must have had an incredible off-season.
When Brannen learned that Williams had been named the first preseason All-Conference player at the American Athletic Conference, he recalled that Williams had not received All-League recognition after his junior year.
Four months later, Williams showed his worth with one of the best games of his career. Williams scored his 1000th career point on Sunday and had 20 points to lead UC (5-7, 3-4 AAC) to a 64-61 win over Tulane (7-7, 2-7).
“Keith Williams will score 1,000 points in every league he plays,” said Brannen. “He’s a talented goalscorer. I’m very proud of him … We won’t win today’s game without his efforts.”
Last week, the Bearcats were the only team in the AAC with just one conference win. After a 25-day break on Thursday victory Williams came off the bench through Temple for the first time this season. While Junior Guard David DeJulius was the focus on Thursday, Williams scored an efficient 15 points in 22 minutes.
On Sunday against Tulane, Williams was again at the center of the Bearcats offensive. Williams attacked the rim and scored three layups in the first 10 minutes. Later in the half, he scored his 1,000th career point off the free throw line and became the 54th player in program history to hit that mark.
In the second half, he led UC for the first time that season for a second straight time, despite the fact that the Bearcats weren’t playing their best game.
“What you saw was a team that was out of rhythm,” said Brannen. “My brother is one of the best high school coaches in the state of Kentucky and he texted me last night: ‘I used to find that during a long hiatus, when you get guys back and get out of rhythm, you’ second game is out of rhythm, not the first … It turns out that was exactly what it was. We felt the effects of such a long pause. “
While UC achieved 18 sales and allowed 34 points in color, Brannen relied on their best players in the second half. Williams finished the game with just two fouls, allowing him to play more minutes than on Thursday.
And Williams delivered in the second half.
With the Bearcats seven points behind in the middle of the second half, Williams hit a contested three-point shot. A minute later, Williams found an inch of clearance to convert a controversial layup. Then he took sales up to the basket for a layup that tied the score.
After a personal 7-0 run, Williams gave UC the chance to win the game.
“He’s our goalscorer, he’s our leader and he’s our type,” said newcomer Tari Eason. “He’s really important that he bring it with him every night. He does.”
It took an impressive response from the Bearcats to even be in this position. With just eight active scholars and a team still building stamina after a 25-day hiatus, Brannen played two walk-ons, Sam Martin and Rob Banks, in a close match for the first time in his coaching career at the Bearcats.
Second security guard Zach Harvey and the Junior Center Mamoudou Diarra remained inactive. Eason and second security guard Mika Adams-Woods came off the bench for the second year in a row and continued to play minor roles after the 25-day break.
Junior guard David DeJulius, who hit a career high of 26 points in a win against Temple on Thursday, shot closer to his season average on Sunday in Tulane.
The Bearcats weren’t playing as hard as they’d hoped.
The newcomer’s striker Tari Eason, with coach John Brannen earlier this season, made a significant contribution to Sunday’s win over Tulane with 13 points and nine rebounds. (Photo: Kareem Elgazzar / The Investigator)
“It’s all about getting into a groove,” said Eason, who had 13 points and nine rebounds. “The quarantine and COVID stuff can mess you up, and your feel for the game might be a little different. But I felt like after the first game I said to myself it was a new game and a new situation. It was time to attack it. “
But behind 20 points from Williams and important three-point marks from Mika Adams-Woods and Mason Madsen, the Bearcats took the lead by one point in the last three minutes.
When the Green Wave came back up front, Eason converted a second chance basket by 43 seconds, giving UC a 62-61 lead. Then, 10 seconds from time, Eason forced a miss and DeJulius got the game-winning rebound to give the Bearcats their second straight win.
“We have the tenacity piece in the right direction,” said Brannen. “Now we have to get the execution piece. It will only take time. What we saw today was the ability to step back and acknowledge that mentally we weren’t where we needed to be to play basketball … It is always great to learn when you win. “