Marquette may be 3-0, but coach Tom Crean is definitely not happy.
After a tougher-than-expected victory over host Chaminade, the 11th-ranked Golden Eagles try to improve their game against a tougher opponent Tuesday when they face Oklahoma State in the semifinals of the Maui Invitational.
Jerel McNeal scored eight of his 22 points in a decisive second-half run Monday as Marquette pulled away for a 74-63 win over Division II school Chaminade. The game played out similarly to previous victories over IUPUI and Utah Valley State for the Golden Eagles, who were unable to put away a lesser opponent until the closing minutes.
“We were very fortunate to win. I hate to use the word lucky but I’m going to,” Crean said. “I wouldn’t call it a wake-up call. We just have to do a better job of what we should be doing.”
Still, the victory extended a run of success for the Golden Eagles in early-season tournaments. They have won 11 consecutive games in November tournaments dating back to the 2004 BCA Classic, a title they won along with the 2005 Great Alaska Shootout and 2006 CBE Classic.
Marquette has shown a balanced offense. Lazar Hayward - making his first start - scored 15 points Monday and both Dominic James and David Cubillan added 11. The Golden Eagles have placed four players in double figures in each of their three contests, offsetting a struggling perimeter game that has seen them shoot just 23.7 percent (14-for-59) from 3-point range.
McNeal, who also had two of Marquette’s 14 steals, picked up points during the key second-half run by driving to the basket and following a missed free throw.
“We knew there was going to be a stretch when our defense and intensity picked up,” said McNeal, who was 10 of 14 from the field. “It wasn’t just me. Somebody is going to get those baskets when we play like that and it just happened to be me.”
The Golden Eagles are shooting 61.9 percent (65-for-105) from inside the arc.
Oklahoma State (2-1) advanced in the winner’s bracket by holding off LSU 83-77 on Monday. Freshman forward James Anderson had 25 points as the Cowboys built an 18-point halftime lead, then nearly squandered all of it in the second half before Terrel Harris hit two free throws with 16 seconds left to seal the victory.
Harris finished with a career-high 24 points and freshman center Ibrahima Thomas added 15. Anderson and Thomas may be able to exploit Marquette’s guard-oriented offense in the low post, as Chaminade forward Marko Kolaric had 19 points and 14 rebounds versus the Golden Eagles.
Anderson is averaging 23.3 points in his first three games, shooting 52.2 percent (24-for-46) from the field.
The Cowboys are 4-0 against Marquette, but the teams have not played since a 57-54 Oklahoma State in the semifinals of the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu in 1998.
The winner of this game will play either No. 13 Duke or Illinois in the championship game Wednesday. The losers will meet in the third-place game.