Chaz Williams dazzles in debut

By Stephen Hewitt

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

After receiving much praise in the preseason and creating a lot of buzz surrounding the Massachusetts men’s basketball team, point guard Chaz Williams didn’t waste any time in proving his worth on Friday night.

Williams, in his first game as a Minuteman, dazzled the crowd, as he recorded a game-high 18 points and dished out eight assists in the Minutemen’s 85-67 season-opening victory over Elon at the Curry Hicks Cage.

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself after one game, but he was fun to watch. He had a stretch there that was fantastic,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg.

Right away, Williams made his presence known, spinning through the lane and converting an easy layup for the Minutemen’s first points of the season. He also got after it on the defensive end, playing an integral role in Kellogg’s new run and press system. He helped cause a lot of havoc in the Phoenix backcourt, creating several turnovers that led to exciting fast-break rushes the other way.

The press was very successful early on, as the UMass defense forced Elon to commit 10 of its 25 turnovers in the first 12 minutes of the game. On one particular sequence, Sampson Carter dove on a loose ball and tried pushing it up floor, and after the ball bounced off of a few bodies, Williams secured it, took one dribble and found a streaking Raphiael Putney for an impressive alley-oop dunk.

Moments later, Williams sparked another fast break, pushed the tempo and found a wide open Sean Carter for yet another alley-oop, which sent a packed crowd at the Cage off its feet.

“It was fun. That was enjoyable watching,” said Kellogg. “Hopefully that’s a taste of what UMass basketball is going to be.”

As much as the game seemed it was all in UMass’ favor, Elon carried a 43-39 lead into halftime. However, that lead quickly evaporated, as Williams ignited a 13-0 run that helped the Minutemen take back control.

After converting his first 3-pointer as a Minuteman, Williams started spreading the wealth again seemingly with ease, first finding a wide-open Sampson Carter, who buried a 3-pointer of his own. Shortly after, he found Freddie Riley open for a basket, and then on another fast-break, Williams sliced the defense, and delivered a perfect bounce pass from half court through a crowd of Phoenix defenders into the waiting hands of Sampson Carter, who converted an easy layup, and again sent the Cage crowd to its feet.

“As much as I was coaching the game, it was enjoyable to watch him play,” said Kellogg, “He made some plays out there, and when he really started giving the ball up, he was so much better. He made some passes out there that we haven’t seen probably in a couple of years.”

It was Williams’ scoring and passing contributions that stole the show on Friday night, but Kellogg was also particularly impressed with Williams’ ability to crash the glass, something that isn’t often seen at his position or from someone with his 5-foot-9 frame.

Williams snuck into the paint and grabbed six rebounds in the game, which he says allowed him easier access to start the fast-break and put the defense on its heels.

“I think a lot of people overlook my rebounding ability because of my height and my body stature,” said Williams. “But I like to go up there and rebound and stuff like that, because that will help the break and my team also … just knowing that I can be there to get rebounds and stuff like that, it always makes it better.”

Unlike in previous years, Kellogg said Williams provides a consistency at point guard that is imperative for success. If his debut is any indication, Kellogg is hopeful that the Brooklyn, N.Y. native can key both the offense and defense with his play to lead the Minutemen to a promising season.

“I’ve likened it to a football team without a good quarterback,” said Kellogg of the importance of the point guard. “I’m not saying we haven’t had some good guys, but nobody that’s been able to really do it for any length of time and really get into my system and style of play. To see Chaz play the way he did tonight was comforting as much as anything, to know when the ball is in his hands, you at least feel that something good is going to happen and you know what he’s doing.

“He better keep it up,” added Kellogg. “Because right now, he’s the only true point guard that we have, and we need him probably as much as we need anybody right now.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.