CLEVELAND —- Johnny Williams played his most minutes for George Mason since before Thanksgiving on Friday.
The Patriots were particularly grateful for his season-high eight points.
“He came in and gave us a great lift off the bench,” said forward Ryan Pearson, whose foul trouble led to extended time for Williams. “He was a great spark. We knew he was great offensively and he showed his talents. He can score and defend, and he gave us a great lift —- a lift that we needed. It helped us out a lot. I was glad he came in and he was aggressive and wasn’t passive. He didn’t play the name on the jersey. He played the George Mason way.”
And in some ways, it came out of nowhere for the Patriots (27-6), who meet Ohio State (33-2) in the round of 32 on Sunday.
Williams hadn’t played even 10 minutes since a Feb. 12 defeat of James Madison. He last took five shots in that game. And he’s averaging only 2.3 points on the season while backing up Pearson and Mike Morrison.
“I was pretty prepared,” Williams said. “I was ready to be in that situation, and the coach trusted me and believed in me.”
As consistent as Pearson has been, the Patriots needed some sort of answer when he produced only his third single-digit scoring outing of the season. And that turned out to be Williams, who aggressively attacked Villanova when given the chance.
“It’s going to take more than five guys to beat a team,” Pearson said. “You need guys to come in and give you a spark off the bench, and Johnny’s been that for us this whole year and [Friday] he showed it. He had a standout game. If it wasn’t for his contribution off the bench —- it was already a nailbiter, but it would have been tougher.”
Will the Patriots need him again? Possibly. Pearson remains Mason’s power forward, but Friday offered the hint Williams is prepared to step in again if the Patriots require his services against the brawny Buckeyes.
“I’ve just been waiting for my time,” Williams said. “They have me my chance and I went out there and played hard.”
—- Patrick Stevens