3 Quick takes: Despite loss, Williams showing he’s the real deal
LARAMIE -- Marcus Williams was a worldwide pandemic away from taking his high school team to the Texas State Championship last March.
He played in the state's highest classification.
Actually, he dominated 6A play, averaging 21.4 points per game to go along with seven assists.
Those are just a few of the reasons Jeff Linder says the moment isn't too big for Wyoming's newest point guard.
True freshman? Has anyone checked that guy's birth certificate?
Williams was dynamic in the Cowboys' 97-61 season-opening win Saturday over Mississippi Valley State. In 34 minutes, Williams netted 20 and dished out eight assists.
One thing was clear -- this offense runs through him.
The same can be said for Monday night, though the heartbreaking 76-74 last-second loss to Texas Southern put a serious damper on things.
"That's the type of team we have," said Williams, who finished with 17 points and four assists. "When we get tired, we fall off from being the team we are supposed to be. In the second half, we were tired, as a whole. In the first half, you saw glimpses of a great team in the making."
The former Dickinson Gator scored the Pokes' first four points of the night. The second was a monster jam that ended with a technical foul.
You can't scream in the guy's face, especially in 2020.
But you have to love the emotion, right? That's something this building hasn't seen much of since a couple guys named Nance and Adams roamed this hardwood.
Once again, Williams' court vision was on full display. He made the no-look passes. The anticipatory heaves.
Williams commands attention. The Tigers gave it to him, too.
That means a teammate or two was open. Williams found them.
None of this was a shock even in Game 2 of what fans will hope is a stellar five-year career in Laramie. What was apparent Monday was Williams is not afraid to call out his teammates and be a true floor general.
On the Pokes' third offensive possession, he took a pass from Hunter Thompson and waited for the big man -- who was open -- to make an aggressive more to the bucket. He didn't and the pass flew out of bounds. Thompson, a junior, got a scowl, followed by a quick chat.
Eoin Nelson was on the receiving end of that Williams' look, too.
Midway through the first half, Nelson didn't fade back for an in-bounds pass. Williams was hit with a five-second call. Nelson was hit with a few choice words from the freshman.
"Yeah, I mean, as a point guard I have to be the coach on the floor," Williams said. "I don't try to get on them, but I try to coach them to make them make a right play. As a point guard, I feel like that's part of my job."
The days of draining shot clock and hoping something good happens are a thing of the past. Thank God for that.
Williams probably took a few shots he wishes he could have back. He also made some veteran, schoolyard plays in the paint that received an audible gasp from the sparse COVID crowd inside the Arena-Auditorium.
Check this one out:
Like all rookies, there will be tough times.
Williams and the Cowboys went cold throughout the first 10 minutes of the second half, netting just 10 points as Texas Southern erased a 19-point first-half deficit and made it a seven-point contest.
As you know, it got worse.
Four of those points belonged to Williams. So did an absolute laser pass into the arms of Thompson, who this time was in the paint and ready to go in for the layup.
Keith Kelley, the new voice of Cowgirl basketball, predicted on his KFBC radio show Sports Zone Monday that Williams could be named the Mountain West Freshman of the Year.
A tad early to make statements like that? Yeah, probably. But if you watch this kid, you might say even crazier things than that.
He's that good.
"I felt like, as a team, we got complacent, as a whole," he said. "We didn't play as a tougher team like we were supposed to."
Sounds like a leader, too.
No one said it would be perfect. But, yikes.
This one hurts.
This was a 20-point Wyoming lead just before the half. Yes, Texas Southern is the preseason favorite to win the SWAC, but that shouldn't happen. Ever. Especially inside the Double-A.
Linder knows it, too.
There's a big "but" coming here though.
The Cowboys were still without Kwane Marble and Kenny Foster, who are out because of COVID protocols. There's the virus itself, which has hampered Wyoming all through camp. This team has played zero 5-on-5 basketball before the season opener.
For six guys on the roster, this was just their second Division-I game. The Tigers, on the other hand, have five seniors and the same amount of juniors.
It makes a difference. We saw it live over the final 20 minutes.
Linder said those excuses can't be leaned on for long, but tonight, his response was simple -- the Cowboys were tired.
"Well, that was a tale of two halves," Linder said postgame. "I thought we played really, really well the first half and the score was indicative of that. We made sure to let the guys know at halftime that they are an older -- really older -- team with experience and they weren't just going to go away."
Texas Southern, led by a 21-point night from guard Michael Weathers, outscored the Cowboys 45-24 in the second half.
The Tigers got second-chance points, got to the free-throw line and dominated in the paint. They ran the same plays over and over, driving the lane. If it didn't go in, more times than not, a player in black was getting the put back.
"I think that team continued to just grind it out," said Hunter Maldonado, who finished with a team-high 18 points and five assists. "At times we needed to get stops they found a way to get to the line or get a bucket. We needed to find a way to get a stop and we just didn't do it."
What about on the offensive end?
The three balls that were finding the bottom of the basket in the first disappeared in the second. Drew LaMont was 4-for-4 in the first half from behind the arc. He was shutout in the final 20 minutes. So was Drake Jeffries, Nelson and Xavier DuSell.
Were they hesitating?
"Maybe a little too patient," Maldonado said. "I think we were not wanting to force anything, but we should've been in more of an attack mode. As one of the veterans and leaders on this team, I needed to find a way to rally these guys and try and find a way to finish this game."
A learning experience
Linder, Maldonado and Williams were all asked the same question -- was this a learning experience.
The answer: "yes."
But the trio agrees they don't want these tests to come with an "L" in the standings.
"It's a tough one," Maldonado said of the loss. "It's the second game though. We are going to take this and learn from it. You never want to learn losing. They're a tough team. I let guys know this type of stuff, this nitty gritty game toward the end, That's how a conference game goes."
Linder said his team will look at the tape and pick out the culprit of its second-half collapse, though he already knows the answer is mostly fatigue. The excuses listed above will likely follow this squad all season. They won't be alone. COVID-19 is already postponing MWC games left and right.
"It's one of those deals where we go back to the drawing board and put the right pieces in right place," he said. "... This is kind of where we are at right now, but we're trending in the right direction."
Williams added that the team on the other bench was pretty good despite its 0-2 record coming into Laramie.
"They are really tough," he said. "Shows we have to play the whole 40 minutes and can't let up on anybody."
That first opportunity is coming fast. Incarnate Word, another Texas school, comes to the Gem City Wednesday night for a 7 p.m. tipoff. Linder said his team is going to have to condition as they play.
That will only help this young squad. And it better come quick -- Mountain West play and a date with UNLV is just three weeks away.