It was early and the game was far from over. The Jaspers were down 10-4 to Siena with just five minutes left in the game. It was time for head coach Steve Masiello to look to the bench.
In comes Rich Williams.
On just his second offensive possession, Williams pulls up for a 15-foot jumper and knocks it down with ease. Two possessions later, Williams comes back and hits a 3-pointer from the wing to bring the Jaspers to within one.
His five quick points off the bench may have seemed trivial at the moment. But the decision by Masiello to replace Jermaine Lawrence in the starting lineup for Rich Williams the past two games was a strong move offensively for the team. Williams’ spark off the bench proved meaningful in the win against Siena and may be even more important moving into the ladder stretch of the season.
“He came to me a week ago and said, ‘Coach, I think we’re a little flat when we go to the bench. What do you think about me coming off the bench and trying to get some life and spark to us,’” Masiello said about his conversation with Williams last week. “I think that says a lot about his character that he wants to do what’s best for the team. So, it was his idea and I think you’ve seen our bench production go way up now with him coming off the bench.”
Later in the first half against Siena, Williams checked back in and knocked down two more triples to give his team its largest lead of the game. He finished with 13 points in just 13 minutes to help his team get the win.
Masiello has been eagerly searching for production off the bench throughout the year. In the game against George Mason earlier in the season, Masiello took Emmy Andujar and Ashton Pankey out of the starting lineup in hope for a spark off the bench.
While Masiello has played with Williams’ rotation – he came off the bench seven times and started 13 – this should be his permanent role for the rest of the season.
While Williams only averages 2.2 more points when he comes off the bench. His team averages five more bench points. That means Williams is more efficient when he plays with younger guys like Zane Waterman and Calvin Crawford off the bench than starting with studs like Andujar and Pankey.
Off the bench, Williams can play his style more often. In fact, Manhattan’s three highest bench-scoring outputs came when Williams didn’t start. So, it is no coincidence that the highest output – 30, in the game against Siena – was Williams’ best one yet.
“I liked our perseverance,” Williams said. “I thought we battled and I thought a lot of things weren’t going well as a team – like in huddles – but I like how we stuck together and pulled it out.”
Last season, Manhattan used Shane Richards as its spark off the bench. But with 50 percent of the team’s scoring graduating in the offseason, Richards had to fill the void in the starting lineup. Manhattan has been trying to find that guy to replace Richards off the bench and while Masiello may have thought Lawrence was going to be the sixth man, he has struggled.
Masiello has said Williams is an All-MAAC type of player, however, as Williams knows best: sometimes you have to take a step back to take a step forward.
“A couple weeks ago I just made up my mind that I’m just going to do anything to help the team,” Williams said. “So the all league (All-MAAC) stuff don’t really matter no more to me. To be honest, it did but I think now that I let it go, I’m starting to play well.”