ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – At Friday afternoon’s Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinal in which eighth-seeded Massachusetts knocked off top-seeded Temple, a small pack of loyal UMass student supporters made the six-hour trek from Amherst to Atlantic City bearing a poster with a clever, yet very true message: “We Playin’ Chazketball.”
Indeed, UMass has been infected with Chaz Williams fever this season, and it seems that the only prescription is more of him.
On Friday, Williams – the generously listed 5-foot-9, lightning quick point guard – turned out yet another impressive performance to lead the Minutemen to victory, scoring 20 points, dishing out 10 assists and pocketing four steals. He
didn’t even take a breather either, as he played in all 40 minutes of game action.
“He’s very difficult [to prepare for],” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “We’re not the only team that has had difficulty guarding him, and we
won’t be the last.”
The Owls are certainly not the first team that has had trouble playing against Williams this season. In fact, it’s the second time in nine days that they’ve had the difficult task of containing him.
On Feb. 29, Williams went off to the tune of 26 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds that led UMass to a near-upset of Temple in Philadelphia. On Friday, he got his revenge, which earned the Minutemen a trip to Saturday’s semifinal matchup against St. Bonaventure.
Williams’ impressive play has been a theme all season long.
Against Xavier on Feb. 21, he scored a career-best 29 points and added nine assists to help UMass to a much-needed victory. And again on Tuesday night, he was the deciding factor as his 21 points and clutch end-of-game free throw
shooting carried the Minutemen over Duquesne and into the quarterfinals in Atlantic City.
The former Hofstra guard transferred to UMass after his freshman season, and after sitting out last season due to transfer regulations, Williams has been the quarterback of coach Derek Kellogg’s new up-tempo, fast break offense, that, for
better or worse, was designed with Williams in mind.
After a season with the Pride in which he garnered a CAA All-Freshman team selection for averaging 9.8 points and 4.2 assists per game, many thought he would be good, but not this good. Not in his debut season, at least. For the season, he’s averaged 16.4 points and 6.4 assists per game, including an outstanding 21.5 ppg, 8.5 apg in 39.8 minutes per game in his last four contests.
A season removed from losing leading scorer Anthony Gurley to graduation, the sophomore’s production has been equally as unexpected as it is impressive. Last week, he was named as an A-10 first team selection.
“He learns quick, he’s a smart player,” said UMass senior center Sean Carter. “He’s mature on the court for his age, and he can really drive us. It’s his passion.”
Carter's not the only one who thinks highly of Williams.
"He's just a really good player, a great competitor," Temple head coach Fran Dunphy said. "That's the piece that impresses me the most. Obviously he's talented and he's fast and he's hard to guard, but his competitive nature is what I think separates him."
If his recent play is any indication, Williams’ play might just drive the Minutemen back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years.
Stephen Hewitt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed
on Twitter @MDC_Hewitt.