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The Big Apple Battle

BU men’s basketball at Madison Square Garden tonight

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Tri-captain Patrick Hazel (COM’11) currently has 44 blocks, the sixth highest ever recorded by a Terrier in a single season. Photo by Steve McLaughlin

The Boston University men’s basketball team takes center court tonight at what is often referred to as the World’s Most Famous Arena: New York City’s Madison Square Garden.

The Terriers will face league rival Albany in part two of a doubleheader being billed as the Big Apple Battle. The first game, with a 7 p.m. tip-off, features Big East conference rivals St. John’s and Connecticut. The BU-Albany game is slated for 9:30. Tonight marks the first-ever America East matchup at Madison Square Garden.

Home to the NBA’s New York Knicks and the NHL’s New York Rangers, MSG has hosted some of history’s most iconic sporting events, among them the first boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, in 1971. And who could forget basketball’s 1995 Eastern Conference finals, when Indiana Pacer Reggie Miller scored eight points in 11 seconds?

BU has its own history with the garden: the men’s ice hockey team played there against Cornell in front of sold-out crowds in 2007 and 2009.

“The opportunity to partner with the Big East is huge for BU basketball and the league,” says second-year head coach Patrick Chambers, who was an assistant coach at Villanova for five Big East tournaments at MSG. “Being placed alongside St. John’s and UConn is great for exposure and recruiting. We also have many supportive alums in the area, and they’ll be able to come out and watch us play in a magical place. More importantly, this will be an experience the players will never forget.”

Tonight’s game couldn’t come at a better time: last week the Terriers played some of their best basketball of the year, moving within two games of first place. After shooting a season-high 52.5 percent in a key 88-78 win on February 1 over Maine, then leading the conference, BU followed up on February 4 with a stellar defensive performance in a 62-49 victory over defending regular-season champion Stony Brook.

For John Holland (CGS’09, COM’11), who earned his second America East Player of the Week honor this season February 7 and recently became the second Terrier in history to reach the 2,000-point milestone, tonight’s game is a special opportunity. The 6-foot-5 guard-forward grew up in the Bronx, but has never played at the garden.

“MSG is the mecca of basketball,” Holland says. “Everyone who plays the sport appreciates the significance of the arena. This will be a great opportunity for the team, but in the end, though, we just have to treat this game like any other and focus on getting better each day.”

Holland, holder of the record for minutes played in scarlet and white, is a finalist for the league’s Player of the Year.

One BU player familiar with the garden is forward Patrick Hazel (COM’11), originally from Queens, who has competed there several times. Hazel scored a career-high 12 points in the  February 4 win against the Seawolves and currently has 44 blocks, the sixth highest ever recorded by a Terrier in one season.

“It’s one of a kind, and you can really feel the history when you step on the court,” says Hazel. “Many great athletes have been there before, so you don’t want to let the hype and excitement of playing at MSG get to you. The lights always seem to be bigger and brighter compared to other arenas, so we just need to stick together as a team and play BU basketball.”

With only six regular season games remaining and the America East tournament looming (the first game is Thursday, March 3), the Terriers are primed to make another magical run, after advancing to the semifinals of the College Basketball Invitational last season. There may be no better place to start than at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

The Terriers face off against Albany in the Big Apple Battle tonight, Thursday, February 10, at 9:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The first game, between St. John’s and Connecticut, begins at 7 p.m. Fans can buy tickets here or at Ticketmaster.

BU alums and fans are invited to gather at Mustang Sally’s (next to MSG) before the doubleheader for a pregame party, starting at 6 p.m. RSVP here. Fans unable to attend can listen to the game here or follow the game on Twitter at @BUGameDay.

Scott Ellis can be reached at msellis@bu.edu.

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