Minutemen defeat BC; take home Commonwealth Cup

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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CHESTNUT HILL – Tyrese Rice stole the ball, giving him nothing but open space to run for the breakaway lay-up.

But the Boston College point guard faltered on the easy shot, as the ball rolled off the rim. The sequence came just three minutes into the matchup with Massachusetts, but told the story for how things would fare for the Eagles during the 37 minutes that followed.

Led by Ricky Harris’ shooting, Tony Gaffney’s hustle and the calm leadership of both Gary Forbes and Chris Lowe, the Minutemen survived a brief, yet giant scare in the game’s final seconds to defeat BC, 83-80, last night at the Conte Forum.

UMass (7-2) won for the first time against BC (7-2) since 1999, snapping an eight-game losing streak. With the victory, the Minutemen capture the 13th annual Commonwealth Classic and bring the Commonwealth Cup back to Amherst.

“That was the first thing we mentioned when we began scouting this team – that [UMass] hasn’t beaten BC in eight years,” Forbes said. “[BC] coach [Al] Skinner was 7-0 coming into this game against us. We wanted to be that team to finally get that hump off our shoulders.”

With 15 seconds left to play and UMass leading by three points, Harris gave Rice and the Eagles one more chance – after doing exactly what Rice did three minutes into the game.

After a pair of free throws by Rice, UMass had the ball out of bounds with a chance to ice the game. The inbounds pass was sent across midcourt, hitting Harris in stride for what appeared would lead to an easy lay-up and the victory. But the shot spun around the rim just like Rice’s had, and the Eagles suddenly had a chance to tie the game.

Tyrelle Blair grabbed the rebound for BC, and the ball found the hands of Rice as time ticked off. Rice stood behind the 3-point line near the right corner and gave a pump fake – freeing him from the two defenders that bit on the fake.

With four seconds remaining Rice took the shot with a good, clean look at the rim.

“I thought it was definitely good,” UMass coach Travis Ford said after the game. “[Tyrese] ball faked both of our guys; I definitely thought it was good.”

But Ford’s prediction was wrong and the shot hit front-rim, giving his team the thrilling victory. The third-year UMass coach was extremely pleased with his team’s performance, but didn’t want them to get too caught up in the win.

“We’re still a team trying to prove itself. It’s a good win, no question,” Ford said, downplaying the theory that the victory was a statement to the rest of the country. “We’re still a team that’s trying to go under the radar and a team that was picked [to finish] eighth in our league. We’re trying to go about our business underground if we can and not make too much noise.”

The Eagles struggled offensively trying to keep up with the tempo that UMass set early. BC turned the ball over 16 times, giving the Minutemen a 19-6 edge in points off turnovers. BC (29-of-59 field goals) shot much better than UMass did (32-of-73), but 15 offensive rebounds for the Minutemen helped them get easy second-chance points.

Harris was terrific on the offensive end for the entire night, hitting 3-of-5 from outside in the first half. But Harris and the rest of the Minutemen changed their offensive philosophy in the second half, consistently cutting to the basket for lay-ups rather than settling for long jumpers.

Harris finished with 25 points, while Forbes added 22 (17 in the second half) and Lowe notched 17. Rice easily led three BC players in double figures, scoring a game-high 26 points. John Oates scored 11 off the bench and Tyler Roche had 10.

UMass led for most of the first half before BC came storming back with a 16-2 run. The Eagles led at the break, 37-34, but the Minutemen quickly went on a 15-3 run to regain control. During that spurt, UMass took the lead at 45-44, and BC never got it back.

The Minutemen appeared to have the game in hand at various points in the second half, but the Eagles got within two points at 75-73 with two minutes remaining.

But four made free throws by Forbes and lay-ups by Lowe and Gary Correia in the final two minutes helped UMass fend off the Eagles.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]