Chaz Williams has been the catalyst and leader of this young UMass team all season long. Unfortunately that has meant that when the team has struggled, a fair amount of the fingers have pointed at the sophomore point guard and his poor play by his standards. Despite consecutive double-doubles and stellar play out of the Hofstra transfer, the Minutemen came into Tuesday night's Atlantic 10 showdown against Xavier on a two-game losing streak. To make matters worse, the Musketeers had won six in a row against UMass.
Williams made sure those streaks ended Wednesday night at the Mullins Center. The smallest player on the court finished with a career-high 29 points and added nine assists in UMass' (19-8, 8-5 A10) 80-71 victory over Xavier (17-10, 8-5 A10). With the victory, the Minutemen moved into a three-way tie for third place in the A10 and a step closer to a potential first-round bye in the A10 Tournament.
But the night was all about Williams. He hit a career-high six 3-pointers, on eight attempts, knocked down 8-of-12 shots overall and finished a perfect 7-of-7 from the charity stripe. For good measure he even chipped in five rebounds and two steals, while playing 38 minutes. The 29 points were a season-high for any player in a UMass uniform.
Raphiael Putney (13 points), Terrell Vinson (12 points) and Freddie Riley (12 points) joined Williams in double figures. Vinson finished with a team-high eight rebounds and Putney's three first-half 3-pointers were vital to the team's late first-half run that opened the game up.
Sophomore forward Dezmine Wells finished with a team-high 19 points for Xavier. The dynamic backcourt duo of Mark Lyons (15 points) and Tu Holloway (10 points) was held below its season average, but the combo did combine for 11 assists and just four of the team's 20 turnovers.
Sixteen of the Musketeers turnovers came in the first half leading to 15 UMass points, the Minutemen finished with 20 points off turnovers.
To make up for their deficiencies handling the ball, Xavier did win the battle of the boards by a hefty margin (40-30). It just wasn't enough to overcome the Minutemen's 41-29 halftime lead and UMass' 88.9 percent (16-of-18) shooting from the free throw line.
UMass faces the first leg of their hardest road trip of the season Saturday when they play at Dayton at 6 p.m. EDT. The Minutemen are just 6-7 this season away from home and 1-4 in conference games on the road.