The performance of Jaylin Williams against Florida led to a rather apt layout of Bruce Pearl’s expectations for the senior forward postgame.
“I need Jaylin Williams to start games and go, ‘I’m as good as anybody out here’ — and play like that,” Auburn’s head coach said Dec. 28. “Take shots. Make plays.”
Williams’ 13-point performance saw him stay consistent despite early struggles. A 1-of-5 shooting effort in the first half against the Gators became a 5-of-11 night in which he logged 10 second-half points en route to an Auburn win.
Nearly a month removed from the Florida game, Williams seemingly listened to his head coach. His offensive efforts have vaulted him into comfortably averaging 10-plus points, and he has continued to produce better marks the deeper the Tigers have gotten into Southeastern Conference play.
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Ahead of SEC play, Williams averaged 10.0 points per contest, a mark that went down a tick through the first few games of the conference slate. But as No. 16 Auburn gets ready to face South Carolina at 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday in Columbia, he’s averaging 10.8 points, which is a season-high.
“I think (he’s) probably more locked in,” Pearl said. “Recognizing the opportunity that we’ve worked so hard to put ourselves in. The opportunity that he’s worked for and had to patiently wait through last season.
“I think (he’s) taking advantage of it and recognizing the importance that for us to continue to win. He needs to continue to do what he’s doing.”
Backing up a front court that included Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler last season, Williams has been thrust into a bigger role. He’s averaging significantly more playing time this year. A season removed from logging 458 minutes in 33 games, Williams has already played 457 minutes in 17 games this season.
Despite the increase in minutes, the scoring improvements have only come of late, but they’ve coincided with Pearl’s desire for Williams to take more shots. The forward is averaging 2.5 more field goal attempts since SEC play began, going from 7.5 to 10.0 attempts.
“I’m always looking to pass first,” Williams said Tuesday. “I don’t know why I do that so much, but I’ve always played that way. But he’s always given me the green light. My teammates, they trust in me. They want me to take those shots every opportunity that I can.”
The day after those comments, Williams logged a 14-point performance in Auburn’s win against LSU in Baton Rouge, marking the fifth time in his career that he has logged three or more double-digit scoring totals in a row.
At this point, Williams is averaging 15.7 points in Auburn’s past three games. He’s doing so while shooting 52.8% from the field and 46.2% from deep — both better than his season averages.
The most noticeable difference between this scoring stretch and the four others is that Williams is, again, taking more shots. His 36 field goal attempts are the third-most he’d tallied among those streaks, but the only times he’s shot more field goals are in two four-game stretches. He’s averaging 12.0 attempts per game in this latest span, the most of any.
Zep Jasper said Thursday that Williams has been “the X-factor” for the Tigers of late.
“He’s been doing what he’s supposed to be doing,” Jasper said, “helping the team out in so many ways.”
While Auburn continues to improve its offense through the thick of SEC play, it seems the best way Williams can continue to help is to just keep shooting.