Sat. Final: Marquette 75, West Virginia 53
By Todd Welter
Jerel McNeal was nowhere near perfect like he was in his last game at the Bradley Center but he still put up big numbers. That was all that mattered for the No.18 Marquette Golden Eagles as they gutted out a 75-53 victory over No. 25 West Virginia.
McNeal tied a season-high with 26 points on just 9-19 shooting. McNeal only went 3-9 from three and turned the ball over six times. Not exactly the 7-7 from three-point range performance he had last Sunday against Cincinnati, but it was the performance Marquette needed to pull out the victory as the Golden Eagles only shot 41% in the game and 29% from three.
"It wasn't perfect by any means," McNeal chuckled. "We knew what type of game it was going to be. It was an ugly game."
Dominic James added 17 points and Wesley Matthews poured in 13 despite missing most of the first half with foul trouble. Do not let the final score fool you because this was not an easy victory for the Golden Eagles.
"We knew what type of style of game they were going to try to make it for us," McNeal added. "Our main focus coming into the game was that we just had to match that intensity and match their toughness. We didn't play perfect at all. At the end we did a great job and we were able to come out on top."
West Virginia stifled Marquette's offense early as the Golden Eagles started the game 1-11 from the field. The Mountaineers would go up by eight with 8:02 left in the first half but then Marquette's offense finally broke off the shackles. The Golden Eagles went on a 10-2 run to take a 27-26 lead with 3:23 left on the clock. West Virginia ended up with a 31-29 lead at the break thanks to Da'Sean Butler's buzzer beater three.
Butler scored all of his team-high 16 points in the first half as he was a non-factor in the second half thanks to foul trouble. Butler picked up two quick fouls to start the half and fouled out with 6:16 left in the game.
"It started to get away a little bit and I didn't see any sense in letting Da'Sean sit over there and let it get away to the point where we couldn't get back into the game," West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins explained for his decision to play Butler with four fouls a lot sooner than most would expect.
The tables turned on West Virginia in the second half as the Golden Eagles locked down the Mountaineers offense. The Mountaineers shot just 25% from the field making only nine field goals.
"It was the tale of two halves," Marquette head coach Buzz Williams said. "I thought we were pitiful in the first half. I thought we were really stagnant. Da'Sean Butler looked like Kobe Bryant. In the second half, we got back to what we do defensively which always feeds our offense. We were lot better in the second half on both ends of the floor."
Despite West Virginia's rough shooting, the Golden Eagles still only held a slim 51-48 lead with 8:13 left. Then Marquette exploded for a 24-5 run to close out the game. McNeal rattled off 15 points during that stretch and Lazar Hayward's three with 3:38 left broke West Virginia's (11-4, 1-2 in the Big East) back.
"What people overlook is they put so much pressure on the ball that they kind of take you out of what you want to do offensively," Huggins thought. "Everybody knows they can score. I thought today they did a really good job defensively."
Marquette (15-2, 4-0 in the Big East) will take a week off before it travels next Saturday to face Providence.
This is the first time Marquette has started Big East play 4-0...Marquette is now 12-0 this season at the Bradley Center...Marquette's 75 points is the second highest point total West Virginia has given up this season...McNeal's two other 26 point performances this season came against Wisconsin and Cincinnati...Hayward had to be given I.V. fluids before the game. Coach Williams would not disclose why...James tied a season-high with seven assists and is just six points behind Dean Meminger for eighth place on the all-time scoring list.