ATLANTA — It didn’t take Ryan Rosburg long after the opening tip to notice something was different with fellow Missouri forward Johnathan Williams III on Thursday afternoon inside the Georgia Dome.
Early in the first half, Rosburg grabbed his first offensive rebound of the game. Or so he thought.
“The ball was in my hands, and he took it from me,” Rosburg said about Williams. “I was like ‘Oh, wow, all right.’ I could just tell he was locked in. He was relentless.”
Williams, the freshman power forward participating in the Southeastern Conference tournament for the first time, was playing with previously unseen tenacity, according to Rosburg.
Williams’ eyes gave it away.
“You could just see it in his eyes, when he was going after those boards,” Rosburg said. “So many different times, he had guys hanging on his arms and clawing away at him, but he stuck with it. You could just see the passion and fire and knew that he was going to get those boards.”
Williams hauled in 15 rebounds — including eight on the offensive end — in Missouri’s 91-83 double-overtime win against Texas A&M. The rebound total was his highest in conference play and his first in double digits since Jan. 28 against Arkansas.
The 11 points he scored in addition to his big rebounding total gave him the third double-double of his young career and the first since a Dec. 7 matchup against UCLA. The Memphis, Tenn., native even hit a 3-pointer, his fourth of the season. And his four assists were a team high.
Rosburg wasn’t the only Tiger to notice the increased aggression that allowed Williams to flourish.
“We saw him shoot a 3-pointer when he was wide open. He was attacking the glass like an animal,” guard Jordan Clarkson said.
Williams, who is still involved with a nondenominational church called New Direction Christian School in his hometown, credited his success to God.
“If he wasn’t with me, I wouldn’t be here right now, so I keep on praying, keep on working hard and improving every day,” Williams said.
His increased intensity comes from the desire to perform on the big stage.
“This is a big stage right here,” Williams said. “I just wanted to play in the tournament. It’s my first year as a freshman, I wanted to play in the tournament as a freshman, so I’m going to continue to play hard, continue to work hard.”
Staying out of foul trouble didn’t hurt, either. In a game that saw six players foul out, Williams – who has struggled to avoid early fouls all season – was charged with just three for the game.
“He kind of just kept his hands up high, stayed solid like a wall down there for us, making guys try to make plays around him,” Clarkson said. “That’s all he needed to do when guys drove, just make them change their shot.”
Williams altered many Aggie shot attempts and blocked two of them.
"We were too soft. Our post guys were soft," Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. "The Williams kid was too much for us to handle."
Missouri outrebounded Texas A&M 48-28. Nineteen of the Tigers’ boards were offensive rebounds, an impressive total that helps explain their 30-10 advantage in second chance points. That lopsided statistic decided the game, according to Missouri coach Frank Haith.
It wouldn’t have been possible without Williams, who on the biggest stage of his young career, delivered his best performance thus far.
“We need him to play like that every game,” Clarkson said. “Rebound, put the ball up when he gets it in the paint and score. We’re just looking for him to continue that play throughout the rest of time.”
He’ll get the next chance Friday afternoon against the tournament’s top seed, Florida, the nation’s No. 1 ranked team.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.