Chaz Williams created some room with a cross-over dribble and let fly with a shot his coach never doubted.
Williams made his only 3-pointer of the game with 1:49 left, shrugging off a poor homecoming performance with some clutch plays late, and Massachusetts rallied to beat Rhode Island 65-61 in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament Thursday night.
“I was waiting for that,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said of Williams’ big 3. “When he raised up, I knew it was in.”
Williams, who went to high school about 3 miles from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, scored 11 points and didn’t have any in the first 17 minutes of the second half. He went 3-for-12 from the field, playing in front of a large group of friends and family members.
“Half of Brooklyn,” Kellogg joked.
The 5-foot-9 point guard hit two free throws with 2:25 left to put sixth-seeded UMass (24-7) up 58-56. After URI cut it to one, Williams made that off-the-dribble 3 from the top of the key to make it 61-57. His mother practically jumped over the railing in the stands after the shot swished and Williams celebrated by holstering his finger pistols.
“Once I made the shot I was like, ‘Finally. Thank you,'” Williams said.
Williams added two more free throws with 34 seconds left to make it a five-point game.
UMass plays No. 3 seed George Washington in the quarterfinals on Friday night.
Xavier Munford scored 24 to lead 11th-seeded Rhode Island (14-18), which lost three games to UMass this season by a total of 12 points.
Munford carried the Rams to a halftime lead. The senior scored 18 points and made all six of his field-goal attempts — including 3-for-3 from 3-point range. Rhode Island went to the break up 37-29 and shooting 61 percent from the field.
Munford and Williams exchanged some not-so-friendly trash talk in the second half, enough to make an official step in and tell the two standouts to “Knock it off! Knock it off!”
“It’s our third time playing them, so it’s going to get pretty chippy and stuff like that. We just had to keep playing them,” Munford said.
Kellogg sat Williams for a few minutes after that to settle down his leading scorer.
“He was pressing a little bit. He’s in Brooklyn, wants to be the best guy on the floor,” Kellogg said. “I thought getting him a blow, letting him watch for a minute or two would kind of refocus him. I thought it worked.”
After Munford hit a jumper with 9:50 remaining in the second half to make it 55-46, Rhode Island went 7:05 without a point and the game got even more heated and physical.
“That had a negative effect on us,” Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley said. “I think it became too emotional and too personal and then we started putting ourselves in really bad spots off the dribble.”
UMass had a tough time taking advantage of the URI drought, cutting the lead to three, and then going cold, too, for almost 4 minutes.
UMass kept pressing and Raphiael Putney came up with a steal and layup that made it 55-54 with 3:53 left.
Trey Davis gave UMass its first lead of the second half with 3:07 left on a baseline drive to make it 56-55.
Gilvydas Biruta finally broke the URI drought with a free throw at 2:45 to tie the game.
Then Williams took over and UMass advanced. The Minutemen already seem to be safely into the NCAA tournament field, but there’s still plenty of work to do this weekend.
“No celebration,” Williams said. “Getting ready for tomorrow. God willing we celebrate on Sunday.”