A second shot, a second chance and a buzzer-beating bucket that rattled the roof on a small gym out in Moraga, Calif., late Saturday night gave college basketball its most uplifting moment of the weekend.
Saint Mary's , which last Friday was dealt a blow from the NCAA that will handcuff its program to an unknown degree over the next couple of years, got a dose of good vibes in the form of Tim Williams , the senior forward/former starter who had the second half of his career cut short due to three major knee/leg injuries.
The first setback came in the 2011-12 preseason, the November of his junior year, when Williams suffered a minor fracture in his left knee. He rehabbed for weeks, and was targeting a midseason return that never came to be. Then, during an open-gym workout/scrimmage with the team last April, Williams went up for a dunk after a move to the hoop, and after he planted his left leg for the spring to dunk, he was maybe "four inches" off the ground before collapsing in a heap and being sent to the hospital.
Williams tore his kneecap cap on the play.
It was nearly three months in a rehab facility last summer for Williams, who worked to a gruel to get his knee and quad back to full strength. The target for a return, for a full senior season, was in the late fall.
Williams was "a week-and-a-half away" from being fully healthy last October when he went up for a rebound in practice -- and heard a pop. Torn patella tendon. Same knee.
"At first I thought it was something else," Williams said, hoping it wasn't so serious.
Surgery was required, again, and his doctor said playing in his senior year was out. A seven-month process awaited -- longer than the college hoops season. The worst luck combated by the best spirit.
"I was determined to try and still play in some way," Williams said.
About a month ago, Williams started to feel stronger. He could lift weights and squat with confidence and do heavier sets than anticipated. He went back to the doctor and wanted another diagnosis. The feeling was if he could be mobile, he could make the best of a situation. The goal came into focus for the man who started 26 games his sophomore year: play at least a few seconds on Senior Night.
It wasn't until last Friday, when Williams talked to the team trainer, that this became a real possibility. Eight days prior to Senior Night, he pitched his idea. The trainer then brought it up to Gaels coach Randy Bennett after the team's 87-48 win over Pepperdine last Wednesday. Bennett agreed: If Saint Mary's was comfortably ahead or behind against Santa Clara, Williams would see the floor, if only for a few seconds.
Saint Mary's had much more trouble with Santa Clara on Saturday night than was expected by most. The game was in doubt with less than five minutes to go, and the Gaels were basically fighting for their at-large lives. Bennett could not make any guarantee to get Williams his desired, precious few seconds on the floor. And it was looking like that Senior Night for Williams would have to be experienced like all the other games over most of the past two seasons: from the end of the bench.
Eventually, Saint Mary's got a comfortable lead, and as three, two, one minute remained, the chants grew from the stands.
"Let Tim Play! Let Tim Play!"
With a 10-point lead and less than 20 seconds remaining, time was called, Bennett looked over to Williams and gave him the all-clear. You're going in.
"I was a little bit nervous and happy at the same time," Williams said, adding he'd never been nervous like this ever before. "I just wanted to get in."
The play was designed to get Williams a chance at a shot. Santa Clara had resigned to the loss and sagged away on defense while Saint Mary's played out its final sets of the regular season for Williams. The first shot went up and fell wrong. Then -- you know? Watch it happen.
Williams hit his first and only buzzer-beating shot of his college career.
"Getting it [at McKeon Pavilion] was the best part," he said. "My teammates wanted me to shoot the ball; I just wanted to check in. Getting in and drawing up a play for me was one of the best feelings ever. There was no guarantee I could play this year. I was just grateful for that."
In the locker room afterward, seniors went around and expressed their feelings on being part of this team and what the night/program means to all of them. For Williams, not only was it memorable for all the obvious reasons, but it was the perfect way to close a chapter of his life.
Because Williams turned 23 less than two hours after the game ended. It was his birthday Sunday. You've done it again, sports.
The story might not be done, either. Williams said he's about 85 percent recovered, and there's been quick talk that he could have the option to get on the court again this season if SMC is involved in another already-decided game in the final seconds. It'll be up to him if he wants to end his career with that clock-beating 3 falling through in front of the home fans -- or if the lure of the WCC and/or NCAA tournament will provide one more moment worth taking a shot.
Video via Run the Floor. For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.