Marquette adds to tournament resume
Led by Dominic James’ season-high 25 points and collegiate-high 5 three-pointers, the Marquette Golden Eagles picked up a victory that’s going to look awfully good on their NCAA tournament resume in a few weeks’ time. By a score of 85-75, they soundly beat a hot Villanova team that just two days earlier had snapped Connecticut’s 10-game winning streak on the same Wachovia Center floor.
“The most important thing is this keeps us in the league hunt, which is where we want to be,” coach Tom Crean said. “Now, we’re not in position to control our own destiny with being able to win the regular season; other people are going to have to do some things. But we’re trying to do everything we can do within our power to make those things happen.
“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves. We’re not looking forward to the Big East tournament or the NCAAs. We’re just playing each and every game with a great mind-set— the whole one-game season mentality we’ve really bought into.”
Lazar Hayward added 15 points and a team-high nine rebounds, Jerel McNeal 14 points and backup point guard Maurice Acker a Marquette-high 12 for the 21st-ranked Golden Eagles, who also reached a milestone in their second consecutive outing by winning their 11th Big East game.
“This was our first time to get to 11,” said Crean, whose team has won five straight and eight of its last 10. “That’s really where we wanted to be. Now we keep moving from there.”
James, who estimated he was operating only at 60 percent after suffering an ankle sprain against Rutgers, knocked down the first 3 three-pointers he attempted in the second half to help turn what had been a back-and-forth affair in Marquette’s favor.
Two of those came on consecutive possessions just after the 10-minute mark, helping to stave off a potential rally by Villanova (17-10, 7-8), which is playing for its post-season life, and silence a crowd of 16,992 that had been itching to come back to life after a strong close to the first half by the Wildcats.
“I didn’t practice yesterday, and early on today in the walkthrough I thought there was no way I’d be able to go,” said James, who also set a personal best with six steals. “I came out here tonight and it just all went away. I looked my teammates in the eye, they had confidence in me to go out there and play, so I did.”
James scored 10 points in the first half as Marquette (21-6, 11-5) played even with Villanova most of the way despite not pulling down an offensive rebound until 1 minute 37 seconds before the break. An 11-4 run by the Wildcats to close out the half gave them a 39-32 lead heading into halftime.
Marquette came out of the locker room red-hot to start the second half, though, and a 13-4 run over the first 3:22 gave the Golden Eagles a 46-41 lead. The Wildcats actually regained the lead briefly at 54-53 thanks to a stretch of second efforts on the offensive glass.
But a three by Acker—his second of the game—made it 56-54 with 10:06 left, giving MU the lead for good. James then followed with his two treys, and from there the Golden Eagles were off to the races.
Starting with Acker’s three and ending with a James floater at the 3:04 mark, MU knocked down 10 of 17 shots, and at the same time stifled Villanova on the other end. From there it became a march to the free-throw line, and MU hit eight of 12 to put it away.
“He was in a great rhythm,” Crean said of James’ outburst. “Usually when he’s hitting early, he’s going to hit for a while.”
James deflected the praise afterward to Acker, the transfer from Ball State who played his best game since coming to MU.
Aside from his 12 points, the 5-foot-7 Acker was also 4 for 4 from the free-throw line, grabbed two rebounds and had a steal in 13 minutes.
“MVP of the game, no doubt about it,” James said. “He was the difference-maker in that game. He wasn’t even an X-factor. He was the most valuable player of the game.”
Marquette now has the rest of the week to prepare for a monumental challenge in the form of No. 11 Georgetown, a co-leader in the Big East which will visit the sold-out Bradley Center at 1 p.m. Saturday.