The point guard hits clutch free throws late in a win over Siena in Springfield.
SPRINGFIELD -- It’s a lesson taught to basketball players from a young age -- make your free throws.
Chaz Williams learned those lessons well. The University of Massachusetts point guard went 4 for 4 from the foul line in the final 9 seconds of the game, locking up the Minutemen’s hard-fought 82-78 win over Siena on Friday night at the MassMutual Center. They were the final four points of his UMass career-high 22-point output.
"I was always taught that being a point guard, you might have the ball late in your hands, so it’s always good to make free throws," the sophomore transfer from Hofstra said. "I just wanted this victory just as [bad as] the guys did. I didn’t want to let my teammates down."
Williams was one of three Minutemen (8-3) to score in double figures. Freddie Riley came off the bench to score 20, 9 coming on three consecutive 3-point shots as the Minutemen erased a 11-point Siena lead early in the second half. Raphaiel Putney chipped in with 13 points.
Williams said their late-game successes the last two games can be directly attributed to the work head coach Derek Kellogg puts in with the players.
"I take my hat off to Coach. He’s such a great coach," said Williams. "He knows everything."
And Kellogg didn’t let his sophomore guard finish.
"You can’t play any more minutes," Kellogg said with a smile.
The game, however, was no laughing matter. It’s the third consecutive game where the Minutemen and their opponents have played to the final ticks with the game in doubt. After a loss at Miami last Saturday, UMass won a tight game at East Carolina on Tuesday.
"It’s definitely been a learning experience since we lost the one in Miami and we made some mistakes down the stretch," said Kellogg. "I thought we did a good job at East Carolina although it didn’t look the way it should on video and at least we pulled out the win.
"I thought we did a pretty good job this evening of getting it close and making some free throws in place. I thought Siena played close to about as good as they could play."
OD Anosike led the Saints (3-6) with 22 points and 14 rebounds while Kyle Downey had a game-high 23 points.
Siena came into the MassMutual Center as the designated visiting team for the third game of the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase. But the Saints, who will be back here in March when the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament begins a contract to play here, felt right at home by late in the first half. It was 33-31 when Siena went on an 8-4 run over the final 31Ž2 minutes to take a 41-35 halftime lead.
The Saints opened up an early 11-point lead in the second half and were up 51-41 when the Minutemen came storming back. When Riley drained a 3-ball from in front of Kellogg, the Minutemen went up 55-54 with 12 minutes to go. It was UMass’ first lead since 26-25 with 51Ž2 minutes left in the first half.
The teams traded leads, but Siena had a chance to take control down the stretch. Unlike Williams and the Minutemen, the Saints couldn’t make the needed free throws. The Saints went to the foul line four different times in the last four minutes, each trip with the chance to tie or take a lead. Siena went 4 for 8 in those four trips, proving to be costly.
"The ones we’re missing are the ones that are tying the game or putting us up one. This has been a recurring theme," Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro said. "In the six losses, other than the Georgia Tech game, if we shot better from the line, we probably win four or five of those games."