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UMass 80, Fordham 76

Williams has free rein

Minuteman guard has hand in victory

By Jeff Wagenheim
Globe Correspondent / January 6, 2012
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AMHERST - Sometimes all you need is a second chance. And a third.

Chaz Williams sure took advantage.

As a point guard, he relishes having the ball in his hand. And that’s right where it was with 12.8 seconds remaining - not on the fast break he’s so adept at fueling, but in the static loneliness of the free throw line. The University of Massachusetts sophomore had just seen Fordham hit four straight freebies to pull within a point, and now he had a chance to give the Minutemen back their cushion.

The building fell silent, and the next sounds that were heard were a clang and then another clang.

But then the groaning home fans were treated to a sight they liked much better: the 5-foot-10-inch Williams battling underneath in a sea of big men and coming away with the rebound. He was fouled immediately, this time hitting a pair from the line with 11.1 seconds left. He then sunk another after a Fordham turnover to boost UMass to an 80-76 victory in the teams’ Atlantic 10 opener before a raucous 2,846 at the Mullins Center.

That second chance? No one handed it to Williams. He went and got it.

“I felt like I almost gave the game away by missing the first two,’’ said Williams (20 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds), “so I wanted to give the best of my ability to get the rebound. It didn’t matter if a freight train was in the way. I was going to get that ball.’’

“It was pretty big,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, whose Minutemen are 12-3, 8-0 at home. “I think that sealed the game for us.’’

UMass had appeared to be on its way to sealing the game midway through the second half, when a 14-0 run broke open a tie game.

Williams did much of the damage with the ball in his hands then, too, and in the way he prefers: leading the break, finding open teammates, hitting long jumpers and sinking twisting drives.

When he drove into the heart of the Fordham defense and kicked the ball out to Javorn Farrell beyond the arc, the junior swingman nailed the third consecutive 3-pointer for UMass - all within a stretch of a little over a minute - and the Minutemen had their first double-digit lead, 55-44.

Williams then found Sean Carter underneath and the big man was fouled and hit a free throw. Soon Williams took off on a 2-on-0 break with Freddie Riley, gave the ball to his teammate, and it was 58-44.

“Chaz Williams is going to be a great player. I wish he were still playing for me,’’ said second-year Fordham coach Tom Pecora, who coached Williams when both were at Hofstra.

All was not smooth for the Williams-led UMass offense, however. Down the stretch the Minutemen settled for too many 3-pointers (they shot 8 of 26 from beyond the arc) and, after rousing the crowd with a couple of alley-oop dunks, got a little alley-oop happy, resulting in turnovers and missed opportunities that allowed Fordham (7-7) to fight back.

The Rams, who knocked off No. 22 Harvard Tuesday, trailed by 10 with just under six minutes left and led by aggressive drives by Branden Frazier (19 points) and Chris Gaston (16 points, 18 rebounds), they climbed within 4 within a couple of minutes.

When Williams missed a layup for UMass with 3:20 left, Fordham appeared poised to cut deeper into the lead. But Jesse Morgan stole a lazy crosscourt pass in the backcourt, drove for a basket, and was fouled. His free throw made it a 7-point game . . . and the Minutemen needed every bit of that cushion.

UMass missed key free throws down in the stretch, Fordham hit its freebies and some big shots, and it was anyone’s game when Williams stepped to the line with 12.8 seconds left. It looked hopeful for Fordham when Williams missed the pair, but a second later he was back at the line, taking advantage of a second chance.

“I think he’s electric,” said Kellogg, “and really plays the game the way it should be played.”

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