NCAA Division I Sports
NCAA Division I Sports
By TODD ROSIAK
Rendered a non-factor by foul trouble in his previous outing, Marquette Golden Eagles freshman guard Jerel McNeal nonetheless claimed afterward it'd take more than referees' whistles to get him to quit playing the aggressive, relentless style of basketball that has served him so well. Good thing for MU that McNeal proved true to his word Saturday. Because without his spark, or Steve Novak's shooting, the Golden Eagles might never have solved San Francisco's dogged 2-3 zone.
But as it were, McNeal's repeated kamikaze drives into the lane and down the baseline were enough to loosen up the Dons and keep MU within striking range. Novak then provided the dagger with 3-for-3 shooting from three-point range and 13 points in the second half, and the Golden Eagles eventually pulled out a 61-48 victory in front of an announced crowd of 12,221 at the Bradley Center.
MU (7-3) also won for the first time in three tries when being out-rebounded (40-34) and shot just 36.5%, its second-worst performance from the field this season.
It made up the difference by going 8 for 19 from the three-point line - with Novak hitting 6 of 8 - and forcing 19 San Francisco turnovers, three of which were second-half steals by McNeal as the Golden Eagles put away the game with a 17-5 run.
“There were a few times where I was like, 'Well, hey, somebody's got to go and do something,' ” McNeal said. “But for the most part I was just trying to create and do anything I could to give us a boost.”
Novak led the way with a game-high 22 points. McNeal tied a collegiate high with 15 points. Ryan Amoroso added eight points and eight rebounds in his first start of the season. Wesley Matthews added seven and seven.
San Francisco (4-6), which saw its high-scoring duo of Armondo Surratt and Dommanic Ingeron combine for just five points on 2-for-12 shooting, did the majority of its damage on the inside with center Jason Wallace-Carter (17 points), Alan Wiggins Jr. (14) and Jerome Gumbs (10).
The trio combined to score 24 of the Dons' 26 first-half points while also providing a solid line of defense once coach Jessie Evans switched into a zone at about the 11-minute mark. MU, meanwhile, had its way early offensively but began sputtering when San Francisco pulled back.
Unable to consistently get someone into the middle of the zone in an attempt to break it down, the Golden Eagles missed 8 of 10 shots at one point before getting 3 three-pointers - two from Novak and the other from McNeal - in the final 5 minutes 18 seconds to head into the locker room trailing, 26-24.
To that point, only McNeal demonstrated the willingness or ability to penetrate the zone with drives.
“We had put a couple of new things in to attack it but our timing was off,” coach Tom Crean said of MU's zone offense. “It was just one or two people not being in the right spot early on. We made some adjustments at halftime. It was predicated on getting the ball reversed and getting it inside-out.”
MU trailed, 32-26, with 17:01 left before finally figuring it out. Combining solid ball movement and 5-for-7 shooting with better defense over the next 10 minutes, the Golden Eagles outscored the Dons, 17-5, to take a 43-37 lead they never relinquished.
Unable to get to the free-throw line consistently (7 for 10 on the day) or knock down its threes (1 for 13) San Francisco was unable to muster much of a comeback and MU improved to 39-2 at home against non-conference opponents since 2001.
Now, after having a week between games because of exams, MU returns to the court Monday for a game with Oakland University, the third Mid-Continent Conference team the Golden Eagles will have faced this year.
“We think we have the potential to see a lot of zone on Monday night and on Thursday against Delaware State,” Crean said. “It's important that we keep learning how to attack those things.”