BOSTON - Boston College is accustomed to fast starts, but in many cases, it has struggled to finish strong.
Yet the Eagles did both on Saturday night, scoring the first eight points of the game and closing the game with a 13-10 run on the way to a 76-71 win over rival UMass in the first ever Boston Tip-Off Classic at TD Garden on Saturday.
"It was such a hard fought game," said Boston College head coach Steve Donahue. "Both teams played extremely well. I give UMass a ton of credit."
Joe Trapani and Reggie Jackson led Boston College with 17 points a piece. Josh Southern had his best game of the season, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
"I just wanted to contribute," Southern said. "I'm just trying to pick my spots and score."
"He's such a good basketball player," Donahue said about Southern. "He has great hands, he knows how to play. I thought he was a key to the game."
Anthony Gurley, who made 1-of-5 shots in the first half, finished with a game-high 22 points for Massachusetts. Freddie Riley and Daryl Traynham each scored nine points and both Terrell Vinson and Javorn Farrell added eight points a piece.
The Eagles (6-2) opened the game on a 14-6 and held a 20-10 advantage with 9:33 remaining in the first half. UMass (7-1) responded with a 9-0 run of its own, trimming the Eagles' lead to one, 20-19, with 7:40 left.
Clearly unaffected by UMass' resurgence, the Eagles regained their composure and scored the next eight points to rebuild their lead to 28-19 with 5:13 to play before halftime. The Eagles didn't let up for the remainder of the half, taking a 35-24 advantage into the break.
All throughout the game, the crowd was overwhelmingly on UMass' side. But that didn't matter one bit for Jackson.
"What environment?" Jackson answered when asked how the pro-UMass crowd at TD Garden affected Boston College. "I feel like playing at the Garden is totally irrelevant. It's not the biggest factor. It's just the game that we love, and that's why we play it."
Trapani led all scorers at halftime with 10 points for Boston College. Biko Paris scored six points and both John Cahill and Dallas Elmore scored five points for the Eagles.
Riley had a team-high five points for Massachusetts. Sampson Carter scored four points and six other players scored two points for the Minutemen.
Boston College made 9-of-22 shots and 4-of-9 threes while Massachusetts hit 9-of-28 shots and just 2-of-10 shots from beyond the arc in the first half.
Danny Rubin's jumper and a Joe Trapani three gave Boston College a 37-26 lead one minute and 15 seconds into the second half. With 16:55 remaining, the Eagles had built their lead up to 41-30.
UMass used patience and solid fundamental play to pull themselves back into the game, eventually cutting the BC lead to 52-48 halfway through the quarter. The Minutemen even trimmed the deficit to two, 54-52, with 7:27 remaining.
But once again, the Eagles kept their poise and nursed the lead back to a healthy margin. Two free throws and a corner three from Jackson put Boston College up 59-54 with 7:02 left.
The final five minutes featured a solid display of heart and passion from both sides. UMass wouldn't back down, bringing the game within two once more, 63-61, with under four minutes to go.
Unfortunately for UMass, Boston College wouldn't back down either.
Jackson nailed a shot clock buzzer-beating three and Trapani made a layup to take a 68-61 advantage into the final three minutes.
"That was very, very big," Southern said. "We needed that at that particular time of the game. They were starting to make a run, and the three was really big for our team."
One minute and a half later, Jackson threw down a dunk to put the Eagles up 70-65.
A Riley jumper cut the BC lead to three at 70-67, but back-to-back baskets from Trapani and Southern, followed by one free throw from Rubin and another from Paris, sent the Minutemen packing.
Boston College shot 50% from the field (25-for-50) and hit 7-of-17 threes (41.2%) while the Minutemen shot at a 45.5% clip (30-of-66) and made 3-of-16 three pointers (18.8%).
In addition, the Eagles finished with 33 rebounds, 15 assists, five steals and 22 turnovers while the Minutemen totaled 34 rebounds, 12 assists, eight steals and 15 turnovers.
BC shot 79.2% from the charity stride (19-for-24) in the victory and had 18 personal fouls. UMass made 8-of-14 free throws (57.1%) and had 24 fouls.
Boston College hosts Providence at Conte Forum on Wednesday night at 7 p.m EST. UMass will host Maine at the Mullins Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m. EST (CBS 3 Now).