Chaz Williams adds yet another signature performance in UMass’ win
SPRINGFIELD — Chaz Williams may be entering the final chapter of his illustrious three-year career at Massachusetts, but he’s not done writing new stories.
Williams thrilled the 7,331 at the MassMutual Center, taking them along for a blisteringly fast-paced ride en route to scoring 32 points and 15 assists, both of which were a career-high, in UMass’ 105-96 win over Brigham Young University on Saturday.
He navigated through traffic for the majority of the game, showing tremendous composure despite both team’s hustling up and down the court in transition at breakneck speeds. In a game with 201 combined points, 131 shots, 44 total assists and enough running to make a marathon runner tired, Williams turned the ball over just a single time.
UMass coach Derek Kellogg lauded Williams’ ability to organize teammates and effectively lead his troops in the week leading up Saturday’s matchup with BYU. For Williams, that’s top priority.
“Honestly I’m not really a big point guy,” Williams said. “I’m more impressed with the 15 assists than anything, just getting my guys involved and having them feel comfortable with playing and just being on the floor with me is more exciting for me than scoring.”
Williams didn’t wait long to assert himself on behalf of his teammates.
With eight minutes, 59 seconds to go in the first half, Williams and Cougars 6-foot-10 center Eric Mika received double-technical fouls for their respective roles in a post-whistle dustup. The altercation occurred after Minutemen forward Raphiael Putney and BYU guard Tyler Haws were tangled up on an inbound and pushing and shoving ensued.
“I think (the energy) carried over,” UMass forward Maxie Esho said. “It kinda got us fired up, I mean that’s our point guard so we want to play hard for him.”
Sampson Carter, who has played alongside Williams for three seasons, expected nothing less from his leader.
“I know what he’s capable of, that’s our point guard,” Sampson Carter said. “I know he has some fire in his heart and I know he’s not gonna back down and his energy’s so contagious. So just to see him like that, that automatically fires me up.”
Williams answered immediately, hitting a 3-pointer on the ensuing play to push the lead to eight. On the next offensive possession he muscled his way to the free throw line. And after a defensive rebound by Esho on the ensuing Cougars possession, Williams rewarded him on the next trip down the court, assisting on a layup.
It was an all-encompassing stretch for Williams, who generally thrives in games played at such a frenetic pace.
“It was a fun game,” Williams said. “And coach told us, you know he gave us a great gameplan and he allowed us to know that they’re gonna try to run with us and stay with us and if we just keep the course, UMass basketball should overtake them.”
Williams described his shooting performance as just “OK” after the game, despite missing just five shots on 9-of-14 shooting and adding nine free throws. And while he might not have impressed himself, he certainly did enough for those in attendance.
He electrified the crowd in the first half by going 3-for-3 on 3-pointers. In the second half, with BYU aggressively extending its zone defense, Williams attacked the basket, going to the line six times. As the lead surged to 10 points, then 12, maxing out at 16, the crowd buzzed every time UMass touched the ball on offense.
In a fitting moment, Williams went to the line late in the second half, his team comfortably leading. Current Boston Celtics General Manager and BYU alum Danny Ainge sat courtside on that end of the floor, watching Williams as he toed the line.
“Hey Danny, you should draft that guy,” a fan shouted in his direction. Ainge smiled and the fans laughed.
And who knows, with more performances like today’s, maybe that will become the final chapter in Williams’ winding story at UMass. But for now, armed with yet another quality victory over a nationally prominent squad, Williams is just one step closer to the Minutemen’s ultimate goal.
“We just gotta keep the foot on the gas and just keep going,” he said. “We say that it’s a target on our back, but we still have a target on everybody else’s back because we’re chasing one thing and that’s to make it the (NCAA) tournament and a national championship.”
Mark Chiarelli can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.