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Chaz Williams leads another UMass comeback

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

KINGSTON, R.I. — Chaz Williams did it again.

The Massachusetts men’s basketball team faced the prospect of its fourth straight road loss on Sunday, trailing 62-55 with eight minutes, 35 seconds remaining against Rhode Island.       The 6,511 fans in attendance – who have witnessed plenty of excruciating Rams losses this season – were at their highest point, rallying behind a surging URI squad. UMass’ offense was at one of its lowest points, going over three minutes without scoring a single point. The game was slipping away.

So Williams, as he’s done so many times throughout his years with the Minutemen, simply went to work.

He scored 11 of UMass’ 18 points over the final 8:35 of play, taking complete control of a sputtering offense and attacking the basket at will en route to a 18-6 Minutemen run to close out the game with a 73-68 UMass win.

“He’s a heckuva player,” Rams coach Dan Hurley said of Williams. “There’s a reason why he’s a Player of the Year candidate and one of the best point guards in the country. He was outstanding late and that’s what point guards do late in the game.”

Williams began his scoring run with 7:14 to go, hitting a free throw to make it 62-56. He benefited from strong defense from running-mate Derrick Gordon, who forced a steal and dished it to Williams on the fast break for a layup.

On the very next offensive possession, Williams had an opportunity to hit a wide open 3-pointer and cut the URI lead to just 62-61, but his shot dipped off the front rim and bounced waywardly. It was the type of shot that’s gone UMass’ way on so many occasions and for a split-second, could have signaled a crucial loss of momentum.

But Williams pushed on.

He drew a double-team on the following offensive possession and snuck a no-look pass to Maxie Esho on the baseline, who finished with a two-handed slam. After Rams guard Xavier Munford missed a jumper, Williams drew contact on the offensive end and hit both free throws as a result. Just like that, the game was tied 62-62 and the Minutemen were yet again in control.

“I’ve been telling (Williams) to put the switch on from jump, from right at the beginning,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said on Williams’ resurgence in the second half. “I was pleased with him, I thought he played a complete game.”

For long stretches on Sunday, it was URI’s guards who dictated the pace of play. Munford and freshman E.C Matthews combined for 43 points, 26 of which came in the second half. The Rams predominantly ran most of their offense through the duo throughout the game. Williams asked Kellogg if he could switch onto either Matthews or Munford and Kellogg obliged.

“I actually want to guard that, I want to put a stop to that,” Williams said. “I’m always up for the challenge so coach allowed me to take the assignment and I’m willing to do it.”

Williams drew an offensive foul on Munford with 2:57 remaining and his team leading 66-65. He applied heavy on-ball pressure and made it difficult for URI to get into the paint area late in the game, something it did proficiently throughout the majority of the game.

“I just don’t want to lose,” Williams said. “We just didn’t want to lose that game so I was just trying to do everything in my power and my will to try and bring the team back.

And with the game almost complete, it was Williams who tallied two free throws with 31 seconds left to give the Minutemen a 70-65 lead. He finished with 21 points and seven assists. Frankly, Williams wasn’t letting UMass fall yet again on the road. It was the type of game-saving, dominating performance that others take note of.

“He’s a floor general, an explosive player,” Matthews said of Williams. “Further on in my career, I want to be able to make plays that way and lead my team to wins like that.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at mchiarel@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.

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