The beginning of the season sure was not smooth for Syracuse’s elder statesman, junior forward Benny Williams. The only player on Syracuse’s roster in their third year with the team, Williams was suspended for SU’s final exhibition game and first two regular-season contests, and then mysteriously did not play other nonconference contests against Gonzaga and Cornell.
Last season as a sophomore, Williams played in 30 games and started 24 of them, averaging 22 minutes a night, scoring 7.2 points, snatching 4.1 rebounds, and shooting nearly 40% from three-point range. As a junior, Williams has played in 17 of Syracuse’s 21 games and averaged nearly 17 minutes off the bench, 5.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and shot closer to 20% from three-point range. But, despite those stats, he is contributing in a lot of other ways right now in terms of defense, intensity, hustle, and effort. That’s catching the eye of Adrian Autry.
“Benny was really good,’’ Autry said after the NC State game via syracuse.com. “I thought he was active. He had five rebounds; altered some shots. He had two blocked shots. I just thought he was really active. We need that from him to move forward.’’
In each of the last five games, Williams has played at least 15 minutes off the bench as Syracuse has gone 3-2 in those contests. His season-best performance did come on December 30th against Pittsburgh when he had 15 points and 7 boards in a comeback win, but the stats are not the biggest thing. He is not expected to score. Playing his role is what is going to earn him more playing time in more meaningful moments.
“I think I’ve been playing well,’’ Williams said after NC State via syracuse.com. “My shot just hasn’t been falling like I want it to. Defensively and rebounding and just my activity, I think I’ve been great. There’s always more that can be done, so I just want to continue my production.’’
In Tuesday’s loss at Boston College, Williams had seven points and five rebounds to go along with four steals but did commit four personal fouls and turn the ball over a couple of times. Against more powerful bigs, Williams has been rather ineffective in interior defense but has been solid on the perimeter guarding other forwards and wings who don’t have the strength to power past him.
With 10 ACC games left in the regular season, Syracuse needs all it can get to find its way to the NCAA Tournament, and a locked-in Williams playing effectively and within his role would be a huge boost for SU down the stretch.