On an afternoon when most expected him to smile from one ear to the other while talking about his accomplishments, Nino Williams showed emotions like a statue.
Sure, the senior forward led Kansas State to a stress free 63-53 victory against Oklahoma State with 20 points and seven rebounds, but he didn’t seem interested in taking credit for the outcome or boasting about his third consecutive standout performance.
Not even hearing that his name was trending nationally while he was making his first eight shots against the Cowboys left him feeling special.
“That is pretty cool, but it is what it is,” Williams admitted. “That is a good thing, but I don’t really care about stuff like that. I look at twitter, but I don’t really focus on it. I may text my mom and tell her I played well. Otherwise, I just try to stay even keel. I don’t want to get too high. I don’t want to get too low.”
That mindset appears to be Williams’ secret to success. After spending three seasons as a role player, at best, he is beginning to emerge as a star for the Wildcats (12-8, 5-2 Big 12). He entered Saturday averaging 11.5 points and five rebounds, but he has been at his best recently, lighting up Baylor for 18 points and seven rebounds last weekend and hitting Iowa State with 22 points and eight rebounds earlier in the week.
Against the Cowboys (13-6, 3-4), he did most of his damage with jump shots, rolling after screens and finding enough space to make 10 of 13 shots.
“His shot has been magical,” K-State coach Bruce Weber said.
At times, it felt as though he was putting on a shooting clinic, sinking shots from the baseline and the wing without hesitation.
“I am a pretty confident guy,” Williams said. “I don’t always show it as much, but I think I can shoot mid-range and threes. I don’t shoot threes, but I am pretty confident.… I try to come in and get 20 or 30 minutes of practice, so I have been shooting a lot. It has been paying off.”
Oklahoma State basketball coach Travis Ford had no answers for him.
“He has got that 10- to15-foot jumper down,” Ford said. “He has got it down and they do a good job putting him in that position. He understands his strengths. He gets them off quick. It is a dangerous weapon.…
“The way he is playing right now, (he is) as good as anybody. The way he has been playing his last four or five games, just look at the numbers — they speak for themselves. He is leading that team.”
His senior surge has made quite the difference for K-State since it started Big 12 play with a loss at Oklahoma State earlier this month. The Wildcats have won five of their last six and reside near the top of the league standings.
Still, they seemed to take an extra step forward Saturday.
Easy victories are hard to come by for every team in the Big 12, but they are especially rare for K-State. So a 10-point victory was a welcome result. It was K-State’s first double-digit victory since Dec. 14 when it took down Savannah State by 20. Since then, they have been locked in nail-biters.
The difference, other than Williams, was balanced offense and consistent defense.
Marcus Foster made important plays on offense, overcoming five missed three-pointers to score 14 points, while Justin Edwards came off the bench to play his best all-around game of the season, also scoring 14 points.
On the other end, Oklahoma State had to work for everything. Phil Forte scored 22 points and Le’Bryan added 13, but everyone outside its two leading scorers came up empty, combining for 18 points. The Cowboys are usually a strong outside shooting team, but they went 3 for 14 against the Wildcats.
That enabled K-State to score the first six points of the game and to take a 31-21 halftime lead.
Ford could tell things were unraveling for his team from the get-go, as he was assessed a technical foul 53 seconds in for taking off his jacket and throwing it when Forte failed to draw a foul for leaping into Foster on his first shot attempt.
“We never made a run,” Ford said. “They answered everything we did.”
Williams, once again, was the main reason why.
Weber thinks he has finally become a player the Wildcats can lean on.
“The thing I have emphasized with him is that he has had good moments throughout his career,” Weber said. “Now, this year as a senior, be consistent. For him to have back-to-back (good games) shows a lot … Nino is just playing. He has learned how to find his shot and make his shot.”