When brothers Jon and Josh Williams joined the Robert Morris program in 2017, it was pretty clear the roles that each would play.
Josh, two years older and an Akron transfer, would be the shooter, and in his two seasons at Robert Morris, he certainly proved that. Josh shot 39.7% from beyond the 3-point arc in his two seasons with the Colonials. In 2018, he tied an NCAA record with 15 made 3-pointers in a game.
Jon, who came to RMU as a freshman in 2017, an inch shorter and two years younger, was the distributor, and he became the Colonials’ starting point guard in his first season in Moon.
But with Josh having exhausted his eligibility following the 2019-20 season, Jon has been asked to take on a slightly different role for RMU this season, and he’s proving he can shoot it, too.
Jon averaged 6.7, 6.5 and 6.3 points per game in each of his first three seasons with the Colonials. As a senior, he’s averaging 10.6 points per game.
The game that pushed him into double figures for the season on Saturday is one that would have made his brother proud. Jon shot 7 of 10 — all from 3-point range — to score a career-high 22 points to lead a furious RMU comeback bid against Oakland that ultimately fell just short.
The offensive outburst is not a one-off. The younger Williams is shooting 44.4% from 3-point range this season and has eclipsed the 10-point mark in seven of his last eight games. He had just five such games in the entire 2019-20 campaign.
RMU head coach Andy Toole said the change has been an intentional one. Without Josh Williams, this version of the RMU team needed Jon to be more of a shooter than just a distributor.
“Jon is the ultimate team guy,” Toole said Saturday. “A couple times early on, he was in the double-digit shot category and kind of looked at it and was like, ‘That’s a lot of shots for me.’
“We told him, ‘We need you to shoot those shots. We need you to be aggressive every time.’
“That’s his role on our team. Obviously his decision-making, his leadership, his shot-making, have been excellent all year long. There’s not one more thing that I think Jon Williams could do to make this team any better than it is.”
While the overall results have been outstanding for Williams, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been days where he’s struggled. Against the same Oakland team on Friday, he shot 2 of 10 from the floor and only a perfect night from the free-throw line allowed him to hit the 10-point mark.
Williams admitted that in his younger years, that kind of performance would probably have prevented him from having the confidence to go out and shoot 10 more the next night, but the combination of his growth as a shooter and the team’s need while attempting to come back from a 19-point first-half deficit kept him toeing the line.
“I don’t think in my younger years, I would have came back and shot another 10 shots,” Williams admitted. “I’ve just been working on that. … That could have been a weakness for me in my younger years, not shooting the ball, especially the way I shot it. Trying to work on being extremely aggressive this year, trying to understand that 10 shots, it might feel like a lot sometimes for me, but at the same time, that’s what we need.”
As he noted, Jon has always been a successful shooter. His worst full season of his first three at RMU resulted in a 38.1% shooting percentage from 3-point range — nearly the equal of his more prolific brother. The difference this year has been how often he’s pulling the trigger.
“I’m just making sure I’m stepping on every look and trying to get a shot at the rim and just being aggressive to make plays and open up the game for my teammates,” Williams said. “I’m kind of enjoying the role and embracing that role.”