AMHERST, Mass.–UMass point guard Chaz Williams drove to the lane, and with the Harvard defense collapsing. Williams went airborne and rocketed a pass to Sampson Carter in the corner. Without hesitation, Carter connected on his only bucket of the game, lifted UMass to a 67-64 win over Harvard at the Mullins Center on Tuesday morning.
“I was already looking at the second defenders,” said Williams, recounting how the play unfolded. “I saw Sampson’s man creeping real in.”
Williams helped set up the late-game rally along with teammate Jesse Morgan. Harvard led 64-61, but Morgan, who had a game-high 19 points, drained a long 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to tie the game. On the next possession, Williams forced a turnover off a trap at halfcourt. UMass coach Derek Kellogg didn’t call a timeout, trusted his floor general to make a play.
The junior point guard didn’t disappoint, patiently waiting for the final play to unfold. Williams’ game-winning assist gave him a double-double of 12 points and 10 assists.
UMass led by as much as 10 in the first half, but the Crimson cut the lead to one heading into halftime.
Harvard won the Ivy League last season, marking its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Though when Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry left school earlier in the semester due to an academic cheating scandal, many believed that the Crimson were vulnerable atop the Ivy League standings.
However, Harvard showed its still a not a team to overlook on the schedule, as the Crimson controlled much of the second half and even with a heartbreaking loss to start the season, there are big positives to take away from this game if you’re Tommy Amaker.
“They looked like they were in midseason form,” said Kellogg.
Tuesday morning introduced college basketball to freshman point guard Siyani Chambers. The Harvard point guard is thrown into the mix after Curry left the school and in his first Division I game, Chambers played all 40 minutes against an experienced point guard and held his own, scoring 14 points and dishing out seven assists with only one turnover.
“That was a magnificent performance by Siyani,” said Tommy Amaker. “To play the way he played with the spirit and the toughness, I think he’s going to be an outstanding player.”
Questions did arise for the Crimson following Tuesday’s loss. Harvard gave up 12 offensive rebounds with a lack of size and without the team’s two top rebounders from the previous season. Also, Harvard had problems handling the UMass pressure down the stretch, which opened the door for a Minutemen comeback. Harvard had 19 turnovers Tuesday morning.
For UMass, a team bound for Puerto Rico on Tuesday evening, this is a solid win to start off the season. UMass is heading into a competitive Atlantic 10 Conference this season with the additions of Butler and VCU. Harvard, despite its losses, is likely the favorite in the Ivy, and a win over a tournament team is a good beginning for a Minutemen squad that should be in contention for one of 68 tournament bids this March.
Hard to believe the 10 a.m. game would be the most exciting of the day, but Harvard has shown that they can still make noise without two seniors while UMass takes a hard-fought victory to Puerto Rico with them.