It took one slight limp to turn the Bishop Ford crowd silent.
One moment, the Falcons fans were roaring, laughing at a Mount St. Michael defender Chaz Williams nearly shook out of his high top sneakers with one juke move. The noise grew deafening when the Hofstra-bound point guard sank the stepback jumper, pushing the Ford lead to 18 with 3:03 remaining.
But at the exact same precise moment the ball softly dropped through the net, the gym turned quiet, everyone watching the 5-foot-9 Williams hit the court and not pop immediately up. He quickly limped to the sideline, not putting any pressure on what was later revealed a mild left ankle sprain.
He wouldn’t return. Two minutes later, the lead was cut into by two-thirds, and coach John Infortunio wasn’t going to put his star’s tender ankle into any more danger.
“Anytime a team loses its best player,” Infortunio said, “whether it’s for five minutes or a game or two, everyone has to help out.”
Junior guard Matt Hall did more than that. He made sure Williams’ fine work – game-highs of 24 points and 10 assists before the injury – didn’t go for naught, picking off a Kraig Lewis pass with under a minute remaining and hitting all four free throws to ice the Falcons’ 75-67 win in Park Slope.
“I had to do something,” he said. “I’m gonna be our leader next year.”
The 6-foot-1 Hall finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, yet another impressive performance by a player that had a crisis of confidence early in the season.
Hall was inserted into the starting lineup, Infortunio said, because of his quick first step, length and shooting range. But as was the case with many other juniors, he was spending too much time watching the diminutive yet dynamic Williams, taking poor shots or hesitating instead of attacking when openings presented themselves.
“I was tentative,” he said.
After the Falcons’ lackluster win over Nazareth Dec. 20, Infortunio spoke to the team about each player’s roles. He told Hall “you have to be our third scorer,” behind Williams and sophomore center Kamari Murphy, who added nine points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in the victory, Ford’s fourth in a row.
A few days later, Ford (11-1, 8-0 CHSAA ‘A’ South) held a players-only meeting to discuss the same thing. Williams encouraged Hall, telling him, “I’m going to need you.”
“That,” Hall said smiling, “made me feel real good.”
“He’s real important for us because he’s another scorer,” Williams added. “He just has more confidence.”
There was little of that for Mount (11-4, 5-4 CHSAA A-North). After winning five of its previous six – the only loss was to last year’s runner-up Iona Prep – the Mountaineers came out flat, digging a 13-point halftime hole. Coach Tom Fraher was particularly disappointed in his team’s effort, or lack thereof, notably the play of his backcourt: senior Will Williams and sophomore Peter Aguilar.
The two rebounded in the second half, combined for 37 points altogether, 23 by Aguilar, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Fraher dismissed the comeback as a result of Chaz Williams’ absence.
“You can’t play one half against a good team and expect to win,” he said. “It was kind of like we were in awe of them (in the first half).”