Chaz Williams uses aggressiveness, swagger in bounce-back performance

By Stephen Sellner

KINGSTON, R.I. — Massachusetts men’s basketball point guard Chaz Williams hadn’t been playing like his normal self.

Thursday night saw Butler swarm the junior with constant doses of double-screens that forced the ball out of his hands. So when Williams had just five points on only three shots in the first half on Saturday at Rhode Island, UMass assistant coach Shyrone Chatman told him to be more aggressive. And after watching highlights from last season with Maxie Esho, Williams realized he wasn’t having as much fun as he had the year before.

So, Williams made a change. In the second half, he came off ball screens looking to score or get to the free throw line. When he buried a corner triple to build a four-point lead with six minutes, 32 seconds left, Williams sulked in the trip back to the defensive end of the court, strutting back with the swagger he was destined to regain.

The result: 15 second-half points and a 75-66 Minutemen victory over the Rams at the Ryan Center.

Williams led the charge with his team-high 20 points while dishing out 10 assists.

UMass clung to a 51-50 lead with 8:55 when Williams turned it on. He was involved in 21 of the Minutemen’s final 24 points — 13 points, three assists — to close out the regular season.

“You have to do whatever the team needs you to do at the moment,” Williams said. “I’m a scoring guard, I’m a passing guard. I can do it both.

“If my team is hitting on all cylinders, I don’t need to score,” he continued. “If I feel like we’re struggling in scoring, then I might have to get to the line or something.”

Williams got to the free throw line at will, sinking 10-of-13 from the charity stripe with 10 of those attempts coming in the second.

“He’s a winner. He’s a kid that wants to try to win the game,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “And when he has the ball in his hands, he’s trying to create fouls because he wants to go to the free throw line. I think he made a lot of big-time, tough plays today and it’s nice when it’s your point guard who’s one of your tougher players.”

Williams wasn’t using that mindset in Thursday’s loss to the Bulldogs. Instead, he played right into Butler’s hands and swung the ball out of the double teams because, as he said Saturday, he felt like that was the right play to create 3-on-2 options instead of trying to beat the pressure on his own.

“I was just trying to play the game, mentally, as a point guard,” he said, “but I probably could’ve used my speed to get around the edge and do different things, but I didn’t.”

Williams’ success took off thanks to the Minutemen’s three-guard lineup that showcased Trey Davis running the point, Williams running off the ball at the two-guard and Freddie Riley playing the three-guard. In the trio’s 17 minutes together, they were plus-11.

Even with the game close in the final minutes, Davis, a freshman, didn’t commit a single turnover in his 21 minutes, which tied a career-high.

“Being out there, I’m freeing up Chaz,” Davis said. “You see when I got in the game, it was much more easier for him.”

Williams has gained confidence in his rookie teammate because of his drive to learn and get better. In fact, Davis emulated one of Williams’ trademark moves of beating the defense past half court and then pulling up as the opposition uncontrollably barges into him.

Davis joked that he didn’t learn that from Williams and even said that the junior learns a thing or two from his as well.

“He’s always in my ear, always in my back pocket, trying to learn new things,” Williams said of Davis. “So when you have a player like that, when he gets in a game, it can only go up.”

With the success of the three-guard lineup, Williams knows that’ll be a staple for the Minutemen as they prepare for the A-10 Tournament, which starts Thursday night against George Washington at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“You’ll probably see it a lot in the tournament,” Williams said.

Stephen Sellner can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Stephen_Sellner.