AMHERST - Northeastern simply could not keep up. The scoreboard told that story in plain numbers, of course, reflecting with conclusiveness the Huskies’ 83-67 loss to the University of Massachusetts last night before 2,664 at the Mullins Center.
But the story behind the story was told not so much in the bright red lights of the scoreboard but the green-light offense - as in go, go, go - of the Minutemen (2-0), led by faster-than-a-speeding bullet point guard Chaz Williams, who left NU defenders in his wake all evening.
The redshirt sophomore, a transfer from Hofstra, sparked an early 14-0 run that put NU (1-1) in catch-up mode. And even after the Huskies finally lit a spark and pulled within 6 points midway through the second half, Williams (20 points, 10 assists) speedily shifted the momentum.
He broke through the Huskies’ full-court pressure on possession after possession, hitting big shots and finding teammates for easy baskets. The UMass cushion was not simply restored, it was fluffed up to as many as 20 points.
“Unfortunately, I’m pretty familiar with Chaz,’’ said NU coach Bill Coen, referring to having faced Williams when he played as a freshman at Hofstra.
“He’s a terrific player, a terrific leader, really difficult to contain.’’
It wouldn’t be quite accurate to call Williams unstoppable, because there was one man on the court who occasionally did stop him: Chaz Williams. He launched a few bad shots and, perhaps because this was only his second game with the Minutemen, got out of synch with a teammate now and then. But as out of control as things sometimes got, he had but three turnovers.
The Huskies tried to deny Williams the ball at times, but whenever he did get his hands on it, NU could do little but swallow hard and hope for the best.
“He limited the way we could attack them on defense,’’ said Coen. “He’s a one-man press break.’’
UMass coach Derek Kellogg echoed that perspective on his new point guard.
“When we’re in transition and the ball is in his hands, I feel pretty confident,’’ he said.
The Minutemen took control from the start by making sure Williams was in control of the ball. Fresh off an 18-point, 8-assist, 3-steal debut in Friday’s win over Elon, he fed Javorn Farrell for the opening score. Then, after Sean Carter added a free throw, Williams pierced the Huskies defense for a layup that made it 5-0.
NU got a couple of layups of its own, from Kashief Edwards and Alwayne Bigby, to pull within a point. But that was the last offense seen from the Huskies for a while.
A Carter dunk and a Terrell Vinson 3-pointer ignited the 14-0 run that saw the Minutemen owning the boards on both ends of the court and the Huskies getting sucked into a fast pace that produced turnovers, missed opportunities, and other mistakes.
Joel Smith ended the drought with a pair of free throws with just under 11 minutes to go in the half, and NU went to a full-court press in an effort to build some momentum. But Williams sliced right through, drove the length of the court, and found open teammates to make it 21-6.
Northeastern was able to creep back into the game. A couple of take-that power slams by Reggie Spencer got a small contingent of NU fans in the arena making noise, and while the Huskies continued to make mistakes, they forced UMass into several as well. The teams traded baskets and turnovers for a spell, and when Smith hit a layup with six minutes left in the half, NU was within 10, at 26-16.
“I was pretty concerned about Joel Smith,’’ said Kellogg. “He was the guy who I felt was capable of going off for 25 or 30, which would have been not good for UMass.’’
Smith did get going in the second half, scoring 11 of his 15 points. But it was Jonathan Lee, who also finished with 15, who sparked NU’s final spurt. With UMass ahead by 13 with 12 minutes left, Lee made a steal near midcourt, raced in for a slam, and was slammed himself by Maxie Esho, who was called for a flagrant foul. Lee made both, and the Huskies were within 9 - with the ball.
Two minutes later, a Smith 3-pointer made it a 6-point game. But Williams then settled down the Minutemen, and the Huskies drew no closer.