Sat. Final: Marquette 61, Wisconsin 58
By Todd Welter
Jerel McNeal has a knack for going off in the big games.
A game gets no bigger when Marquette and the Wisconsin Badgers square off. Jerel McNeal went off for a game-high 26 points with 19 coming in the second half as No. 25 Marquette squeaked out a 61-58 victory over its in-state rival at the Bradley Center.
"I'm in a situation where I just try to do whatever I can to help this team win," McNeal said. "It was one of those grind it out type games. It wasn't real high scoring game. It is never like that when you are playing Wisconsin."
McNeal, who averaged 23.2 points per game on college basketball's biggest stages in the Big East and NCAA Tournament last March, threw Marquette's offense on his shoulders. McNeal went 10-18 from the field with four three-pointers. He was 7-11 from the field in the second half alone. It seemed like Marquette just kept running the same play for McNeal and Wisconsin just could not stop him.
"That is how our coach is if something is working" McNeal explained about Marquette head coach Buzz Williams calling for the same offensive play. "It was not anything complicated. It was just a double high screen. I just try to come off and make plays."
His teammates did not make as many plays as McNeal did. Dominic James was the only other Marquette player to reach double figures with 10 points. Marquette shot 40% from the field and struggled to score for most of the first half. The poor first half shooting left Marquette down 33-27 at the end of the first half.
That changed real quick as McNeal rattled off 14 straight points during a ten minute second half stretch that saw him tie the game up at 46 with a nice drive into the line and a pull up jumper finish going glass. The Golden Eagles then went on a 12-3 run to grab a 58-49 lead with 2:34 left.
The Badgers offense was a tale of two halves as Wisconsin torched Marquette's defense in the first half. The Badgers shot 48% from the field and went on a 13-2 run that built up a 10 point lead with 6:50 left in the first half.
Marquette tightened up the defense in the second half as the Badgers shot just 43% from the field. Wisconsin also committed an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers during the game and could not slow Marquette down. The Golden Eagles had 19 fast break points. What killed Wisconsin the most, other than McNeal's second half scoring run, was the Badgers went six minutes without a single point down the stretch.
"It was one of those nights we did an unbelievable job defensively and rebounding," McNeal thought. "That is what pulled us through at the end."
Marcus Landry snapped the scoring drought with a layup with 2:18 left. A minute later, Hughes made a three that cut Marquette's lead to 58-54. Hughes led the Badgers with 14 points. Landry was held to just five points.
"It's all about possessions," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "You do some things well. You get them to shoot around 40%. You don't allow them certain things. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities that we had."
Marquette turned the ball over with 1:02 left but Wisconsin could not take advantage of the gift. Joe Krabbenhoft dribbled the ball out of bounds with 52 seconds left which sealed Wisconsin's fate.
"It was a great college basketball game," Buzz Williams said. "The last 16 minutes was like Joe Frazier and Mohammad Ali."
Wisconsin now falls to 6-2 and up next for the Badgers is a Tuesday night meeting with Idaho State at the Kohl Center. Marquette improves to 7-1 and takes a week off for final exams. A win over Wisconsin is not a bad way to start off finals.