BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
PHILADELPHIA - Darnell Williams thought it was time to atone. Time to make up for lost time. Time to repay his teammates for the inconvenience of his absence. Time to get on with his life.
The Xavier forward took the floor Friday night seeking redemption and found basketball to be a wonderfully forgiving game. His one-game suspension ended, Williams returned to the Musketeers with all of his old moves and perhaps a smidgen of newfound purpose.
One night after he had been missing in action at the Atlantic 10 Tournament, Williams scored 21 points, made four steals and helped XU into tonight's championship game with a 95-80 romp over the Rhode Island Rams.
''I feel like I owed them,'' Williams said of his teammates. ''I know they were capable of winning without me, but I wanted to help.''
XU coach Skip Prosser scoffed at the idea that Friday's game was some sort of ''personal crusade'' for Williams, but it had to be comforting just to get in the game and away from his recent problems.
Everybody makes mistakes
Williams declined to comment on reports that his ''violation of team rules'' was a euphemism for driving under the influence. He said he had learned something from his lapse in judgment, however, and he demonstrated that defending him can be an enormously sobering experience.
''He didn't owe me anything,'' said Xavier guard Lenny Brown. ''That's our teammate, regardless of what he does. I think he wanted to come out and play with a lot of emotion because he felt bad about last night.
''Everybody makes mistakes. He had to answer a lot of questions about why he didn't play, and he came out and had a good game. This - the way he's playing now - is probably the best that I've seen him play.''
Darnell Williams is a daunting assignment on a normal night. He is the leading leaper among the Muskies, both for height and hang time, and has become their surest shooter from the perimeter. If he looks a little frail among all the muscle in the Xavier lineup - like a sapling among Sequoias - he is quick enough to compensate. Quick-witted, too.
With 4:12 to play in Friday's first half, Williams leaped near his limit to field a cross-court pass from James Posey. When gravity finally returned him to the ground, his right foot fell just barely inbounds and his momentum was carrying him toward the scorer's table.
Before his left foot hit the floor, Williams signaled for a 20-second timeout, saving Xavier a possession that ended with Williams sinking a three-point shot that gave the Muskies a 41-27 lead.
Williams finished the first half with 16 points, four steals, a blocked shot, an assist and two rebounds. He would finish the game with five three-point baskets in six attempts, punctuating the last of them with a little leap that told you it was tournament time.
Give me a 'D'
Afterward, Williams insisted that this game had meant nothing more than any of those that preceded it. If his body language spoke differently, he was not ready to admit it.
''It was just a regular game to me, just another game,'' he said. ''I just wanted to go out and be aggressive. The coaches told me, 'You don't have to be all-world tonight. Just try to do the things you do.' ''
What Darnell Williams does best is put points on the board. He makes a good cheerleader, but it is a waste of talent.
''He was cheering me on when I wasn't clicking in the first half,'' Lenny Brown said. ''I was ready to get him some pom-pons.''