No. 8 Marquette wins 12th straight game
Jerel McNeal scored 26 points, Wesley Matthews 20 and Dominic James 15 to lead the streaking Marquette Golden Eagles past the DePaul Blue Demons, 76-61, Tuesday night at Allstate Arena.
The victory was the 12th in a row for eighth-ranked Marquette (20-2), which remains alone atop the Big East at 9-0, a start that ties the Golden Eagles with Syracuse (1999-2000) and Boston College (2004-05) for the fourth-best in league history.
Marquette shot a season-best 57.1 percent (28 for 49), including a sizzling 64.0 percent in the opening 20 minutes, and scored 21 points off 16 turnovers by DePaul in a game it led the entire way despite a forgettable 12-minute stretch to close out the first half.
“Just keeping it going,” said James, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half. “Ugly win . . . we’ll take them all. When it’s all said and done every win counts, and every win counts the same.”
Playing on the outskirts of his native Chicago and in front of a pro-MU crowd of 11,230, McNeal was on fire early on.
Thanks to 4-for-4 shooting from three-point range, the senior guard was singlehandedly out-scoring DePaul, 14-12, until a putback by Mac Koshwal at the 10:21 mark.
That basket made it 27-14 in favor of MU, which to that point had hit 11 of 14 shots (78.6 percent).
“He was headed for a 170-point game,” quipped DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright. “He’s a very opportunistic player, and he’s really playing with confidence.”
Meanwhile, DePaul (8-15, 0-10) could get nothing to go. Not helping the Blue Demons’ cause was the absence of talented sophomore wing Dar Tucker, who unexpectedly sat out with an ankle injury.
But just like that, McNeal and the Golden Eagles went cold, got sloppy with the basketball and dialed it back on defense almost simultaneously, allowing the Blue Demons to go on a 12-2 run to narrow the gap to 33-26 with 4:26 left.
A layup by Matthews stopped the bleeding momentarily, but DePaul responded by scoring seven of the next nine points to pull to within 37-33 with 2:56 left in the half.
All told, DePaul outscored MU, 19-6, in roughly a 5-minute span, with Will Walker accounting for 11 of those points.
Even more frustrating for the Golden Eagles was that the Blue Demons were able to rally with the 6-foot-10 Koshwal on the bench for a good portion of that stretch.
Even still, MU coach Buzz Williams refused to call a timeout during DePaul’s surge, forcing MU to instead play through it.
“They knew the deal. They know what I would have said,” Williams said. “I didn’t say anything at halftime. No profanity in the locker room; I’m trying to get better at that. They need to figure out how to get themselves out of it. I thought it was a great opportunity for us to learn, and they did learn.”
McNeal’s block of a three-point attempt by Walker and his ensuing pass to a streaking James led to a breakaway dunk to make it 39-33.
Walker answered with a jumper, giving him an incredible 19 points and pulling DePaul back to within 39-35. McNeal then was fouled knocking down a jumper, and his free throw made it 42-35 with 37.5 seconds to go.
A baseline jumper by Matija Poscic with 4.8 seconds left capped the scoring, with MU heading into intermission nursing a 44-37 lead.
As it turned out, that would be more than enough.
The Blue Demons were able to get no closer than eight in the second half, at 56-48 with 12:59 left, while McNeal, Matthews and James accounted for 32 of MU’s 34 points.
MU’s 12-game winning streak is its longest since 2001-’02, when the Golden Eagles won 12 in a row in Conference USA.
“I think that all of us were out of character the first 12 minutes of the first half,” Williams said. “And I think that all of us were in character pretty much every possession on both ends of the floor (in the second half).”
Walker finished with 30 points to pace DePaul, which shot 41.7 percent.