Despite returning all its key personnel, Marquette appeared to be a work in progress in its season-opening victory.
The No. 10 Golden Eagles hope to make improvements Monday when they host Utah Valley State in their second game in three days.
Jerel McNeal scored 20 points as Marquette defeated IUPUI 76-68 on Saturday night, overcoming a five-point deficit in the final 13 minutes. While the Golden Eagles shot 55.1 percent (27-for-49) from the field, they struggled to put away the Jaguars as coach Tom Crean tried to find the right combination among the nine players who logged 16 or more minutes.
“I thought we did a good job of shooting the ball, we hit the right kind of shots for the most part,” said Crean, whose team won 24 games last season and reached the NCAA tournament. “We played a lot of different lineups. We went with the four-guard lineup for awhile at the end of the game.
“We just have to learn when we get somebody down we’ve got to keep them down. We broke our lead in the second half and we just let them come right back and we’ve got to learn to stop that.”
Dominic James scored 12 points, Lazar Hayward added 11 off the bench and Wesley Matthews had 10 for the Golden Eagles, with McNeal and James combining for seven of the team’s nine steals. But McNeal, one of the best defenders in the nation, knows there’s plenty of room for improvement heading into Monday’s game after Marquette allowed IUPUI to shoot 50 percent.
“I think that was the main problem, we weren’t getting enough stops or rebounds,” McNeal said. “We played a pretty good team tonight. It was one of those situations where it was a really good first game for us, it was a measuring stick for us, letting us know where we are and where we can get better in our weaknesses.”
Marquette is using a guard-oriented lineup similar to what Villanova relied on to reach the regional final of the 2006 NCAA tournament. McNeal, James, Matthews, Hayward and David Cubillan - the tallest of the five being 6-foot-7 - were on the court for the final five minutes.
Utah Valley State opened its season with a 73-72 overtime loss at Boise State on Friday. Ryan Toolson scored 29 points, but the Wolverines committed 28 turnovers and allowed the Broncos to grab 22 offensive rebounds, offsetting a 53-percent shooting effort.
“We battled hard and never quit,” Wolverines coach Dick Hunsaker said. “We certainly made a lot of errors. The offensive rebounds and turnovers were eye-popping, but I thought we fought hard.”
Toolson and backcourt partner Josh Olsen each committed seven turnovers, a troubling sign if Utah Valley State expects to contend with Marquette’s up-tempo attack that’s paced by its guards.
Senior power forward Jordan Brady made eight of nine shots from the field and finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds Friday. Reserve Jabir Jinna added 12 points and Richard Troyer had 10 and six rebounds for Utah Valley State, which limited Boise State to 32 percent shooting.
This will be the first meeting between the Golden Eagles and Wolverines.