Before the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team started the season that has the Cowboys ranked in the top 15 and one game out of first in the Big 12 Conference, they were delivered a big blow.
It was believed Brian Williams, easily the best defender the Cowboys had on the roster, would be lost for the year with a wrist injury to his non-shooting hand.
The bleak forecast was a little off and the redshirt sophomore from Baton Rouge, La., suited up for OSU amid a seven-game win streak that put the Pokes back in conference title contention.
While Williams didn’t have any drastic impact on the roster when he initially returned — only playing a handful of minutes while still favoring his right hand to avoid his injured left hand — the 6-foot-5 guard/forward still was able to bring a boost off the bench.
“Brian clamps down and locks up on defense. He gives us more pressure in practice, which prepares us for the games,” OSU redshirt sophomore forward Michael Cobbins said prior to the Bedlam game against Oklahoma on Feb. 16. “When he gets into the game, he brings energy off the bench and just locks people down on defense.”
Williams has seen his minutes progressively increase, averaging 14.3 minutes in the seven games he’s played in since his return.
His biggest contribution since returning from rehab came in Saturday’s 73-57 road win at West Virginia. With starting point guard Marcus Smart — a solid defender in his own right — sitting nearly all of the first half with three fouls, Williams was called upon help fill the gap and played a season-high 22 minutes.
“It felt pretty good,” said Williams, who scored a season-high 13 points in the victory. “... Today it’s almost to where I was when I finished the season last year, so I’m feeling real confident about my progress.”
For OSU coach Travis Ford it wasn’t just Williams’ contributions scoring — his first double-digit point performance — but some of the little things the Louisiana native had become known for in his first year of action.
“I thought he looked and played very similar to what he did last year,” Ford said. “Before the game I challenged him to get back to offensive rebounding — last year we could count on him getting two to three offensive rebounds per game — and he wasn’t in the game for 20 seconds and he got his first offensive rebound and got a putback and was fouled on it.
“He was playing with great energy and using his activeness to make things happen. I thought he looked as comfortable out there as he has all year long, and that was good to see.”
Williams said he still feels some lingering effects from the injury that saw his wrist shrink to nearly have its original size while in a cast, but it no longer hinders him during games.
“It’ll get tweaked every now and then when I fall or when somebody hits it,” Williams said. “But my adrenaline pretty much carries me through the pain.”
Though Williams may not be back to 100 percent, having an energy player like him back on the court is definitely playing a positive role for his teammates.
“It’s great seeing him get back in the rhythm of things, grinding it out in practice,” said Cobbins, who came to Stillwater in the same recruiting class as Williams. “I’m just happy for him to be back out there on the court with me and able to do what he loves to do.”
Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater NewsPress.