Without James, Marquette Must Move On
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The smallest player for No. 8 Marquette is in his biggest role ever.
And senior guards Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal must rely on reserve junior Maurice Acker -- not backcourt buddy Dominic James -- for the rest of the season.
Marquette's Big Three is down to two after the point guard broke a bone in his left foot early in a 93-82 loss on Wednesday night to No. 2 Connecticut.
"It's a big loss not having Dominic," Acker said after playing 33 minutes. "Everybody has to pick it up and get ready for the next game."
But Marquette (23-5, 12-3 Big East) faces a brutal final stretch with road games at No. 6 Louisville on Sunday and No. 1 Pittsburgh on Wednesday. The regular season ends at home March 7 against Syracuse.
James, averaging 11.4 points and 5.1 assists, will have surgery and miss about three months, but will no longer play for Marquette after nearly jumping to the NBA following his first season when he took home the Big East Rookie of the Year award.
The rest of the conference understands just what James' loss means.
"That kid is a great kid. I love those three guards, I really do. They've been so great for our league, the game," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "If they're going to lose any of the three, and this is probably crazy to say, he's probably the one they could replace the best. But you're not going to replace Dominic James."
Said Huskies coach Jim Calhoun: "I feel very bad for Dominic. He's a terrific player."
Acker and junior guard David Cubillan, who hasn't played as much since offseason surgery on both shoulders, can each run the position, as can Matthews and McNeal for stretches.
Acker, who transferred from Ball State in 2006, is listed as a generous 5-foot-8, three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than James, and has started just one game but earned the program's "Super Sub" award last year.
Against Connecticut, Acker hit his only two shots, a pair of 3-pointers, and had four assists, three rebounds and one steal without a turnover. But he's been used sparingly during Big East games.
"(He) had zero turnovers, created shots for others and did a really, really good job, but, yeah, we're a different team when Dominic is at the point," Marquette coach Buzz Williams conceded.
Still it won't be a total shock.
Even though Acker had played less than 33 minutes combined in the previous five games and hadn't even hoisted a shot since Jan. 4, he was high school teammates with McNeal.
"Being able to step up in the shoes of Dominic and just go out there and be able to run a team, hopefully I can build on that and it'll help me next game," Acker said.
Sophomore Jimmy Butler will also have to take the pressure off Matthews, McNeal and forward Lazar Hayward, who make up the bulk of the scoring load. Butler had a career-high 12 points against the Huskies. Butler said they realize no one can replace James.
"He's a big part of the team. He leads the team real well. I look up to him just like a lot of people on the team. Him out there bringing everybody more together," Butler said. "I'm not saying we're going to fall apart when he's not out there, but I just feel he gives a lot to the team and with him not out there it messes a lot of things up."
Marquette has had a recent history of untimely injuries.
Two years ago, McNeal missed the final four games of the year with a right thumb injury and Marquette lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Michigan State.
In 2005, point guard Travis Diener broke two bones in his left hand at practice when the Golden Eagles were 18-8. Marquette went on to lose four of its final five games, missing the NCAA tournament.
Now, Williams must find a way to rally the Golden Eagles to keep from another collapse.
"We had a small margin as I've said all year. That margin is now completely gone," Williams said. "We have to play perfect. We have a lot of work to do between now and Sunday."
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)