MT. VERNON —
Kent Williams is no stranger to the Sweet 16.
The Mt. Vernon grad and Rams career leader in points led Southern Illinois to the final 16 of the NCAA Tournament as a player. Now he's back as an assistant coach at Tennessee.
“It feels great, and it's rewarding,” Williams said.
Williams is in his third season at Tennessee as an assistant for head coach Cuonzo Martin. Tennessee entered the postseason as a No. 11 seed and played its way into the final 64 with an overtime victory against Iowa last week in Dayton, Ohio. The Volunteers struggled early against their Big Ten opponent and trailed by double-digits early in the game before rallying.
“We got off to a slow start in the Iowa game,” Williams said. “They came out hitting some shots, and I thought we had some breakdowns and we just weren't getting into our offense like we wanted to. For us, we like to take our defense into our offense.”
Less than 48 hours later the Volunteers played the No. 6 seed Massachusetts in North Carolina. Tennessee led throughout the game before closing out the 86-67 upset. That set the stage for Sunday's battle with No. 14 Mercer. The Bears entered the game fresh off a shocking upset of Duke, but Tennessee won again. The victory sets the stage for Friday's Sweet 16 game against No. 2 Michigan.
The Tennessee team is comprised of veteran players this season. The top five scorers are all juniors and seniors. The group has led the Volunteers to eight wins in the last nine games.
“It's one of those special situations or special highs I guess you could say,” Williams said. “When you get to playing at a high level where you feel like the intensity's there and everybody's clicking on the right page.”