CHAMPAIGN — Postgame interviews aren’t always Da’Monte Williams’ favorite activity.
Interviews of any kind really.
Williams’ preference is typically to limit the amount of time he’s asked to talk about himself or his game.
Dropping a career-high 18 points in Tuesday night’s 117-65 Illinois victory against Lindenwood, though, secured Williams a seat at the podium for the postgame press conference.
The 6-foot-3 junior guard did dive into the impetus of his breakout performance. Three days after showing a little more offensive aggression against Hampton, Williams turned it up several more notches against the Division II Lions in front of a State Farm Center crowd of 9,712.
“It always feels good to see shots go in,” Williams said. “Especially shots that I work on every day before and after practice.”
Williams’ pair of three-pointers Tuesday night was one off the career-high he set as a freshman against Purdue. His 8 of 10 free throw shooting matched the high mark he set last season at Northwestern.
Williams’ overall performance against Lindenwood got its deserved hype from teammate Ayo Dosunmu. The sophomore guard led the Illini 24 points to go with five assists and four steals, but he had more to say about how Williams played than his own game.
“I played with him younger, and I always loved the way Da’Monte played because I felt like he played the game the right way,” Dosunmu said. They were EYBL teammates with Mac Irvin Fire. “I just try to tell him to stay aggressive. Sometimes when players are missing shots early they tend to fade away, but Monte I, see him put the work in. I see him in the gym each and every day working on his shot and working on his craft, so I’ve tried to tell him to go out there and incorporate that. That’s what he’s been doing.”
Being more aggressive offensively is something Illinois coach Brad Underwood said he’s challenged Williams with this season.
Williams scored just two points in four of the Illini’s first five games and was held scoreless in 7 minutes off the bench against Hawaii.
A five-point effort against Hampton wasn’t all that much more, but his aggressiveness then came out again Tuesday against Lindenwood.
“Da’Monte’s worked really hard the last few days getting shots up — coming in and working on it,” Underwood said. “You love to see that rewarded. He took one bad one. He took a runner late that had no chance, but other than that, everything was in rhythm.”
How Williams played Tuesday is how his teammates know he can play. They’ve been trying to get it out of him, too.
“We’ve known each other for three years,” fellow junior guard — and roommate — Trent Frazier said. “He’s always been putting in extra work, extra time and extra shots. We’re always in the gym. He makes the right plays, but sometimes I tell him he’s got to be more aggressive. He turns down shots that he practices to get somebody else a shot, but I’ve been telling him to be aggressive and shoot those open shots.”
While Williams might not be a regular go-to scorer, his teammates and, especially his coach, value that he does the little things.
The Peoria native takes charges.
Dives for loose balls.
Crashes the boards to rebound.
“He’s the anchor back there for us,” Dosunmu said. “He’s, I would say, the Draymond Green for us. … He does a lot of things you wouldn’t see in a stat book. He’s a great player.”
Williams is simply doing what the Illinois coaches have asked from him since he arrived on campus for the 2017-18 season.
“Since my freshman year, Coach Underwood said it’s the little things that help us win games,” he said. “I just try and go out there and do all the little things so we can win games.”
Williams arrived at Illinois as a three-star recruit. At one point during his recruitment, though, the Peoria Manual standout was a top 50 player in the 2017 class. A torn ACL three games into his senior season with the Rams hurt his stock.
What Williams did Tuesday against Lindenwood, though?
That looked more like the Williams that led Manual to the Class 3A state tournament as a junior and started his senior season red hot before the injury.
Underwood saw that on film.
Heard about it talking with Williams’ coaches.
Saw a little bit of it Tuesday at State Farm Center.
“The thing I’m really impressed with is the 10 free throw attempts,” Underwood said. “That’s something that he can continually provide for our basketball team a lot is getting to that foul line and putting pressure on the rim through the dribble drive.
“I wouldn’t consider him ever to be an elite jump shooter, but he’s been an elite scorer. Scorers know how to do that. Offensive glass. Free throw line. Slashing to the rim. Those are things that he did (Tuesday night). He’s very capable of all of that.”