NEW YORK — Sure, UMass guard Chaz Williams torched Fordham for 22 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, and a steal in a 38-minute, high-octane performance that was the key ingredient in a 77-73 Sunday matinee triumph by the Minutemen.
Still, Fordham coach Tom Pecora retains his membership in the Chaz Williams Fan Club.
“I’ll always be rooting for Chaz,” said Pecora, who coached the Bishop Ford High School (Brooklyn) grad at Hofstra three seasons ago, before Pecora took over the Fordham reins in 2010.
“When we’re not playing him, sure I’ll be looking for Chaz to step up, to do big things. I revel in all his performances.”
Except this one.
Williams, a 5-foot-9-inch redshirt junior, is a bundle of energy who transferred to UMass upon Pecora’s departure from Hofstra to Fordham, and he was vital to the Minutemen’s first Atlantic 10 victory (after a 70-62 loss at Saint Louis Thursday night) and 11th triumph in 15 starts. Fordham, playing before its loyalists in the historic Rose Hill Gymnasium, the nation’s oldest collegiate basketball venue, dropped to 5-12, 1-1 in the A-10.
Williams had just a single lapse, saying the wrong things, and within an official’s earshot, to Fordham’s Branden Frazier, an old chum from their Brooklyn schoolboy days (Frazier played at Bishop Loughlin, just a few miles from Ford) midway through the second half.
Whistled for a technical, it might have been a costly outburst.
But Frazier missed both foul shots and the Minutemen escaped the episode unscathed.
“We were talking some smack back and forth all game,” said Williams. “I just picked the wrong time to do it.”
What did he actually say?”
“Nothing that can be repeated,” Williams said.
It certainly wasn’t “Happy New Year.”
“I’m a Brooklyn guy,” said Williams, smiling. “I’m used to playing tough. That’s nothing new.”
“Chaz, he’s a guy who can take control of a game,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. “We need him to play that way every game.”
For half a game, this one had the look of a runaway. Ahead just 11-10 after two Terrell Vinson free throws, the Minutemen went on a 22-8 tear in the next eight minutes for a 33-18 edge en route to a 40-26 lead at the break.
The Rams were a horrific 11 for 41 (26.8 percent) from the floor, to UMass’s 15-34 (44.1) those first 20 minutes.
“I knew that couldn’t last,” said Kellogg (now 4-1 all time against the Rams). “Fordham’s a much-improved team. I knew they’d come back.”
And the Rams did just that. Powered by Frazier (21 points for the game, just 3 in the first half) and Chris Gaston (18 of his 20 in the second half), Fordham rallied into contention — but never did regain the lead.
Twice the determined Rams got it within 2 points (67-65 with 2:00 left on a Frazier 3-pointer; 69-67, 54 seconds later on a pair of Travion Leonard free throws).
But each time the Minutemen had the answers. After the Frazier three, Cady Lalanne’s tip-in got UMass back to 69-65.
After the Leonard pair from the line, Freddie Riley hit a 3-point dagger and it was 72-67.
The final 34 seconds was a parade to the foul line.
Two Williams free throws extended it to 74-68 with 26 seconds left and Fordham was out of time and answers.
Vinson was another major UMass contributor with 19 points and a pair of steals; Trey Davis added 12 points and four assists off the bench; and Riley netted 11 with a pair of assists.
Although UMass’s shooting was unspectacular (27 for 70, 38.6 percent from the field; 16 for 24, 66.7 percent from the line), Fordham’s was worse.
The Rams wound up 25 for 71, 35.2 percent from the field, 18 for 30, 60 percent from the line.
The shots kept clanging out from 3-point land, with UMass 7 for 23 and Fordham 5 for 16.
The Minutemen host Duquesne Thursday night.