Williamson, a freshman from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has been running the point for the past three games, and coincidentally, ETSU has won all three by at least 20 points.
The quick point guard seems to have overcome his early season jitters and is playing with more confidence and poise since being inserted into the starting lineup. Since becoming a starter, Williamson is averaging 12 points a game. In those three games, he’s had 10 assists while turning the ball over just four times.
“I think a lot of it for Daivien was he didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes because he’s a freshman,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “I kept imploring him to let loose and play because I knew what was in there. He changes the tempo of our team.”
Williamson and the Bucs face their next challenge Thursday when Samford visits Freedom Hall for a 7 p.m. tip. The two Southern Conference rivals come in with 11-4 records with each having split their first two conference games.
Williamson, who doesn’t turn 19 until Jan. 22, has flourished since scoring 19 points against Illinois in extended playing time when Isaiah Tisdale was ejected.
“It definitely gives me a lot of confidence,” Williamson said. “I’m glad I have a coach who believes in me and believes in what I can do to help this team. We’re on a roll right now. I’m having a lot of fun and we’re winning too, so that’s even better.”
Tisdale, a first-team junior college All-American last year, is still getting plenty of playing time, averaging 21 minutes per game to Williamson’s 26 since Forbes made the move.
“Having Daivien and Isaiah as a one-two punch is pretty darn good,” Forbes said. “They’re both high-character guys, and they both want to win. We’re lucky to have them both.”
ETSU fans might remember Samford’s Wyatt Walker, the big center who scored 30 points in Freedom Hall as a freshman. He’s now starting in the front court for North Carolina State.
That’s not all. Samford also lost Justin Coleman to Arizona and Christen Cunningham to Louisville, and those two have started every game for their new teams as well. In addition, Demetrius Denzel-Dyson is playing in the G-League, the NBA’s developmental circuit.
With that much talent, it’s difficult to comprehend Samford’s 10-22 record from a year ago.
The current roster seems to have figured things out better than their talented predecessors. The Bulldogs already have more victories than last year and have a solid enough inside-out combination to challenge in the deep SoCon.
SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS
Samford is led by Ruben Guerrero, a 7-foot, 240-pound transfer from South Florida. He’s averaging 15.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
“He can really move,” Forbes said. “He can catch and he can score. He’s a problem, defending him in the post.”
Guerrero and Robert Allen, a 6-foot-8 freshman who averages 8.5 points and 7.6 rebounds, should make for a good battle with ETSU’s inside men, 7-foot Lucas N’Guessan, 6-foot-10 Mladen Armus and 6-foot-7 Jeromy Rodgriguez, the nation’s fourth-leading rebounder at 11.7 per game.
“I think it’ll be a really good matchup,” Forbes said. “There’ll be some beef on the floor.”
Samford junior point guard Josh Sharkey averages 14.5 points and 6.2 assists a game, and Brandon Austin is shooting almost 44 percent from 3-point range. Kevion Nolan, who puts up fewer than four 3-point shots per game, leads the SoCon in 3-point percentage at 53.8.
“They’ve got a good inside-out combination,” Forbes said. “We’re going to definitely have our hands full. We always have good games with Samford.”