It’s been a long time since Massachusetts was relevant on the college basketball scene, but they were one of the better stories of the early part of the season and entered their Atlantic 10 opener against Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night with just one loss in their first 13 games along with a top-25 ranking (19th overall). It was a back-and-forth game, with the Hawks jumping out to a 16-7 lead and the Minutemen countering with a 16-5 run in the first half, but senior guard Chaz Williams scored eight of his 22 points in the final six minutes to lead Massachusetts to a 66-62 win.
Williams led three players in double figures for the Minutemen, and with center and second-leading scorer Cady Lalanne limited by early foul trouble and finishing with just four points and four rebounds his production was even more vital on Wednesday night.
Saint Joseph’s out-rebounded Massachusetts 35-28, led by forwards Halil Kanacevic (19 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) and DeAndre Bembry (16 points and eight rebounds), but they made just 10 of their 17 free throw attempts (58.8 percent) and turned the ball over 17 times while the Minutemen took good care of the ball with just eight turnovers.
If Wednesday night’s game is any indication, the Minutemen may have a tough time navigating a tough (and perhaps underrated) Atlantic 10 Conference if they can’t avoid bad stretches within games. Williams stepped up against Saint Joseph’s and may do so often to propel Massachusetts to victories during conference play, but if he were to struggle at all for any lengthy stretch or were to get hurt their chances to earn a top-level seed in the NCAA Tournament would most certainly disappear fast.