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There's no rest or victory for the weary

Cornhuskers roll past tired Golden Eagles

By TODD ROSIAK trosiak@journalsentinel.com

You could see this one coming from a mile away.

Just three days removed from their 3,000-mile journey back from Alaska, the Marquette Golden Eagles showed the inevitable signs of jetlag from the opening tip of their non-conference matchup with the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Wednesday night at the Devaney Center, dug themselves into a 19-point hold by halftime and were never able to recover.

Six three-pointers, 17 free throws and much better rebounding over the final 20 minutes made the final score of 84-74 respectable, but it was a loss nonetheless for an MU team that had been riding high following an impressive three-day run to the Great Alaska Shootout championship last week.

“I don't know; it's so hard to tell,” said coach Tom Crean when asked if his team was still suffering the aftereffects of its 18-hour return trip from the Great Alaska Shootout. “We're not going to put it on that. They got us on our heels in the first half, didn't have to work very hard for their baskets and we did. We played with a real sense of urgency for the last 20 minutes, and we didn't do it for the first 20 minutes.

“That is part of a young group that's got to learn how high a level we're at.”

Freshman point guard Dominic James continued his development by setting collegiate highs with 22 points and eight rebounds to lead the Golden Eagles (4-2), while fellow classmate Wesley Matthews matched him by setting personal highs of 18 points and seven rebounds, also adding a team-high four assists and two steals.

The Golden Eagles, who trailed for all but 28 seconds, shot a season-low 34.8% (24 for 69) - including just 26.8% (11 for 41) in the final 20 minutes - and saw their reserves out-scored, 31-13, by the Cornhuskers'.

Nebraska (5-0) used some uncanny shooting and its active big bodies to jump out to an early lead. A 12-0 run in a span of just over two minutes midway through the first half, keyed by back-to-back three-pointers, gave the Cornhuskers a 28-14 lead with 10 minutes 28 seconds left.

MU made some headway shortly thereafter and pulled to within 35-27 with 5:33 left after James picked Marcus Perry's pocket near mid-court and went in for an uncontested two-handed reverse jam. But the Golden Eagles saw any momentum from that play halted after referee Tim Higgins whistled James for a technical foul for hanging on the rim.

Nebraska responded with two free throws by Perry and a layup by Joe McCray to make it 39-27, and then things really fell apart for MU. The Golden Eagles managed just two points from that sequence on while turning the ball over five times and went into the locker room trailing, 48-29.

Also killing MU was its inability to keep Nebraska off the offensive glass; the Cornhuskers grabbed 15 boards on that end and turned those into 15 points. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, managed just three.

“I don't think that was a personnel thing as much as it was who wanted to get those boards more,” said senior Steve Novak, who finished with 13 points. “They started the game being more physical than we were. We knew that was going to be the game and why we didn't (respond), I'm not quite sure.”

MU did respond in the second half, becoming more aggressive down low behind Ryan Amoroso and on offense by attacking the basket. Although the Golden Eagles hit just six shots over the final 8:29, five were threes.

They also went 12 for 16 from the free-throw line over the final 10:10, and thanks to some poor shooting from the line by the Cornhuskers (17 of 29 in the second half) were able to pull to within 62-56 with 6:08 left.

Nevertheless, seven straight points over the next 1:11 by Nebraska put the game out of reach for MU.

“We certainly proved if we put 40 minutes together like we played the last 20, it's a different ballgame,” Crean said. “We just didn't do that.”


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