|Chaz Williams led Massachusetts to an upset of top-seeded Temple in the A-10 quarterfinals. (AP)|
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – With 4:25 left, Massachusetts was nursing a one-point lead over Temple and the Minutemen had to use their final timeout after a steal by Terrell Vinson.
For a team with just one senior and a few close losses this season, it should have been a nervous huddle. Head coach Derek Kellogg didn't think so.
“This is where we wanted to be,” Kellogg said in the timeout. “It's up to you guys now."
Javorn Farrell hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and Temple couldn't get over the hump and tie the game the rest of the way, as eighth-seeded Massachusetts upset No. 1 Temple in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic-10 tournament, 77-71.
Massachusetts moved onto the semifinals, where it will play the winner of Saint Joseph's vs. St. Bonaventure.
The reason Kellogg – and the Minutemen – weren't worried was the presence of diminutive 5-foot-7 point guard Chaz Williams, who finished with 20 points, 10 assists and only one turnover. Williams is simply faster than everyone else, and is impossible to slow down.
“He brings great poised to our team,” senior Sean Carter said. “He's a young guy, but he learns quick and he's mature on the court. He drives us with his passion.”
That drive began when Williams arrived after transferring from Hofstra. Despite his stature and age, the players look to him as a leader of the team. He led the team in 6:30 a.m. workouts during the offseason, helping Kellogg instill hard work as the main trait of this team. Players are now in the gym before practice, or in the morning before class, working on their free throws or jump shot.
The difference in the work ethic is noticeable from last season.
“When you start playing hard, weird things happen,” Carter said. “Loose balls start just falling into your hands.”
“It's nice to see, when you work hard, there are dividends,” Kellogg added.
Getting over the hump against Temple was important for Massachusetts, especially after losing to the Owls by two in overtime just a week ago. While the Minutemen had been confident throughout the season, finally breaking through against the Owls means a lot going forward.
“When we're clicking on all cylinders, the team feels like we can compete with a lot of teams nationally,” Kellogg said. “This was one more step.”
The victory over the top-seeded Owls was also something of a statement win for Kellogg's tenure. Massachusetts has improved each year under Kellogg, getting its 22nd win of the season on Friday afternoon. Knocking off the perennial power in the Atlantic 10 solidifies the Minutemen's standing in the league.
In fact, after the game, people speculated that it might be the biggest victory for Kellogg during his career at Amherst.
“Some people would think so,” he said. “If it leads to a win tomorrow and the next day, absolutely. I want all the wins.”
There are certainly more on the way under Kellogg's watch.