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Marquette loses game to UConn, loses James to broken foot

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McClatchy Tribune
February 26, 2009
— Poised to grab a share of first place in the Big East Conference at the Bradley Center on Wednesday night, the Marquette Golden Eagles instead wound up suffering a double whammy of the worst kind.

Not only did they lose a hard-fought game, 93-82, to the Connecticut Huskies, they also lost Dominic James to a broken left foot, an injury that ended the senior guard’s memorable four-year run at Marquette on the same night he passed Ousmane Barro to become the school’s all-time leader in games played at 128.


Without James, their best on-ball defender, the Golden Eagles had no answer for Connecticut guard A.J. Price, who score in 36 points on the strength of an 8-for-13 performance from three-point range as the No. 2 Huskies moved back into sole possession of first place in the Big East.


At 14-2 (26-2 overall), they’re now a half-game ahead of the Louisville Cardinals — whom MU travels to face on Sunday.


“I thought our guys absolutely competed their guts out,” coach Buzz Williams said. “Even though we lost, I don’t know that I’ve been more proud of their effort.”


Stanley Robinson, a 6-foot-9 forward, added 19 points and 10 rebounds, and 7-3 center Hasheem Thabeet 14 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks as Connecticut pummeled size-deficient MU on the boards, 46-26.


Sixteen of those came on the offensive end, including 13 in the decisive second half.


Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, meanwhile, notched his 800th career victory, becoming just the seventh coach in Division I history to reach the milestone.


“I thought it was one of the better performances and one of the harder performances for me as a coach,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”


Jerel McNeal scored 26 points to lead the eighth-ranked Golden Eagles (23-5, 12-3), who fell into a tie with No. 1 Pittsburgh for third place in the league standings.


Wesley Matthews added 20, Lazar Hayward 15 and Jimmy Butler 12 as MU kept itself in the game with 11-for-21 shooting from three-point range and by cashing 15 Huskies turnovers in for 25 points.


James went down in the opening minutes of the game.


After knocking down a three-pointer from the top of the key at the 16:57 mark, he pulled up limping while defending Price and grabbed his left foot. He signaled to the bench, and at the next dead ball made his way off the court before eventually heading back to the locker room.


X-rays eventually revealed a fractured fifth metatarsal, an injury that requires surgery and usually at least three months’ recovery time.


“He’s been absolutely incredible throughout his career,” said Williams, who on a couple occasions had to hold back tears in talking about James.


“I prayed for him twice. I walked out with him at halftime, and I hugged him before I came in here.”


James was not available for comment afterward, but apparently took the news of his injury hard.


“Probably the way you would anticipate that he would handle it,” Williams said when asked about James’ mind set.


Word trickled back a short time after James left that he would not be returning, and Maurice Acker—who hadn’t played in the Golden Eagles’ previous game at Georgetown, and 35 minutes total in the month of February—was called into action in his place.


With Acker and Matthews sharing the ball-handling duties MU had trouble getting into its offense but at least was able to generate points by driving to the basket, a task made easier by a long spell on the bench for Thabeet.


Trailing, 19-14, with 11:30 left in the first half, the Golden Eagles suddenly found the range.


They scored on five consecutive possessions, the first four coming on three-pointers. Matthews and McNeal both connected from almost identical spots on the left wing, and after a Price three — the third of four he’d hit in the opening 20 minutes — Matthews connected on another from the top of the key.


A Huskies turnover on the ensuing possession then led to a three from the right corner by Hayward, and after a Robinson miss on which the Huskies failed to get back, Matthews leaked out and capped a 16-3 run with a dunk, giving MU a 28-22 lead and leaving the crowd of 19,091 up for grabs.


But Connecticut didn’t wilt under the pressure.


Robinson and Price knocked down back-to-back threes to knot the score, and on the other end Thabeet finally began asserting himself. By the time the Huskies were through, they had answered the Golden Eagles’ run with a 16-0 surge of their own to wrest control back from MU at 38-28 with 3:52 remaining in the half.


A jump hook by Hayward, and then two straight layups by Butler keyed a 9-2 run to pull MU within 40-37 with 1:10 left.


James made his way out to the bench on crutches just prior to the start of the second half, his foot already casted up, and watched the Golden Eagles fall behind by as many as 11 after an 11-3 run gave Connecticut a 59-48 lead with 14:47 left.


But Acker answered with a three—his first field goal since Jan. 4—and just like that, MU was off and running again.


A turnover led to a leak out and layup by Hayward. A three-point miss by Price led to another three by Acker. Then another turnover led to a runner by McNeal, a play that was capped when Calhoun was whistled for a technical foul.


Matthews connected on both free throws, and just like that MU was back ahead, 60-59, with 12:07 left.


From there, the lead changed hands 11 times over the next 5 ½ minutes before Connecticut slowly began pulling way. Behind the long arms and fresher legs of Thabeet and Robinson, the Huskies scored 11 straight points to take an 84-74 lead with 4:28 remaining.


MU got to within 84-81 on a McNeal pullup with 2:32 left, but a pair of free throws by Jeff Adrien and then Price’s eighth three sealed it for the Huskies.



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