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Leading by nine, Marquette loses to Pittsburgh by 15

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McClatchy Tribune
March 5, 2009
— “The Gauntlet” took an ugly turn Wednesday night for the Marquette Golden Eagles.

What had been an entertaining game with the No. 3 Pittsburgh Panthers during the opening 24 minutes got completely out of hand in the final 16, with the net result being a 90-75 defeat for the Golden Eagles at the Petersen Events Center.


It was the third consecutive loss for the Golden Eagles against their third straight opponent ranked in the top six in the nation.


Marquette held a 57-48 lead with 15 minutes 58 seconds remaining only to see Pittsburgh close on a brutally efficient 42-18 run and send the Golden Eagles home with their first three-game losing streak in more than two years.


“I’m really not sure where we’re at right now,” said a dejected Wesley Matthews. “Right now, everyone’s down. We want to win every game; we feel like we can. We’re in every one. We were up nine at one point in this game, and just let it slip away.”


Jerel McNeal scored 23 points, Lazar Hayward added 22 points and 10 rebounds and Matthews 16 points as 13th-ranked MU (23-7, 12-5 Big East) will now need a victory from Providence over Villanova to have any shot at obtaining the fourth seeding in the Big East Tournament.


The Golden Eagles close the regular season at 1 p.m. Saturday against No. 25 Syracuse at the Bradley Center.


DeJuan Blair scored 23 points to lead five players in double figures for Pittsburgh (27-3, 14-3), while Sam Young added 18 and Levance Fields 17. The Panthers are 18-0 at home this season and could land a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament if they can knock off No. 1-ranked Connecticut on Saturday.


MU shot 42.6 percent while allowing Pittsburgh to shoot 63.0 percent—a season-worst performance by the Golden Eagles.


The Golden Eagles burst out of the locker room, opening the second half on a 16-3 run to take a 52-46 lead at the 17:05 mark.


Matthews had seven points, and McNeal and Maurice Acker both hit three-pointers to lead the way.


Two Blair free throws slowed the tide momentarily, but a pretty spinning baseline jumper by Matthews and then a three from deep on the right wing by McNeal extended MU’s lead to 57-48 and silenced the crowd of 12,508.


Then, in less than two minutes, the Golden Eagles allowed the momentum to shift completely.


After a Young layup cut the deficit to 57-50, MU embarked on three fruitless trips downcourt that consisted of two bad three-point misses by McNeal and another by Matthews.


Pittsburgh rebounded all three and cashed in on the other end each time, with a monstrous dunk by Blair that nearly brought the basket down knotting the score at 57-57 and getting the crowd right back into the game.


“It’s a very fine line, because some of the shots that we were making in the first four minutes prior, we made,” said coach Buzz Williams, when asked about the shot selection during that run. “The problem is, when you’re getting the ball out of the basket, you’re not playing downhill.”


Hayward’s third three stopped the bleeding but only briefly. Pittsburgh outscored MU, 12-3, over the next 4½ minutes to regain control at 69-63 with 8:55 left, and by the 4:39 mark the run had ballooned to 23-5, eliminating any remaining mystery.


“From 11:50 to 1:50, we could not make a basket, and everything they made seemed like it was in the paint,” Williams said. “They’re the best team that I’ve ever coached against in the middle of the clock, in the middle of the paint.”


By the time all was said and done, McNeal had logged his fourth consecutive 40-minute outing and fifth of the season, and Matthews his third consecutive.


“Coach does a great job of making sure that all the guys that play an extended amount of minutes are getting enough rest,” McNeal said. “I don’t think I’m feeling any effects, physically. It’s more mental than anything, just mentally draining going on a losing streak like this.”


MU got its best work done in the first half with Acker, starting at point guard for the second straight game, on the bench.


After a 13-0 Panthers run left the Golden Eagles behind, 17-9, a little less than 8 minutes into the game, Williams brought David Cubillan in and had both McNeal and Matthews initiate the offense.


With a little more muscle defensively and on the glass, and 4 three-pointers over a 3½-minute stretch, MU pulled to within 37-34 with 3:07 left in the first half. But a 6-2 run by Pittsburgh the rest of the way sent the Golden Eagles into halftime trailing, 43-36.


The Golden Eagles were in danger of getting run out of the building early on, as the Panthers had more offensive rebounds (three) than MU had total rebounds (two) at the midway point of the first half. Pittsburgh was also shooting better than 70 percent.


The Panthers wound up shooting 60.7 percent for the half, but the Golden Eagles went into the locker room at 48 percent themselves and had narrowed the gap on the boards to 15-11.


Pittsburgh, not surprisingly, scored 26 of its 43 points in the paint and turned seven MU turnovers into 12 points. It also outscored MU, 6-0, on the fast break — an aberration for the normally high-octane Golden Eagles.


McNeal and Hayward had 12 apiece for the Golden Eagles, who knocked down six of 10 three-pointers. Blair scored 13 points and Young and Dixon eight apiece for the Panthers.



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