With talent like Wesley Matthews and Lazar Hayward around, there are games when Jerel McNeal may not even be Marquette’s top all-around player, let alone one of the best players in the Big East and perhaps the entire country.
Lately, he’s been all of the above.
Looking for his sixth straight 20-point performance, McNeal will try to lead the eighth-ranked Golden Eagles to their 12th consecutive victory Tuesday night as the Big East’s lone unbeaten travels to DePaul, which is still seeking its first conference win.
McNeal’s scoring average has gone up in each of his four years at Marquette, rising from 11.1 as a freshman to 14.7 as a sophomore before a modest jump to 14.9 points per game last season.
As a senior, McNeal has increased his average to 19.7 ppg - third in the Big East - and he, Matthews (19.2) and Hayward (16.6) have the Golden Eagles (19-2, 8-0 Big East) averaging 81.6 points, good for 10th in the nation.
“I’ve been incredibly hard, more so than you would know, on that group of guys,” coach Buzz Williams said. “And I am still incredibly hard on that group of guys and they respond every day.”
McNeal has exceeded his average in each of Marquette’s last five games. He’s averaging 25.0 points in that stretch to go along with 4.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.2 steals, and the Eagles’ latest game was perhaps the best all-around effort of his career.
McNeal had 26 points, a career-high 11 assists, six rebounds, five steals and three blocks as Marquette used a 52-point second half to run past Georgetown 94-82 on Saturday.
“When your best scorer has 11 assists, has turned into our leading shot blocker in conference play and he got five steals,” Williams said, “I don’t know if you can find a better line. … He’s playing at a very high level.”
Marquette hasn’t won 12 in a row since Jan. 9-Feb. 19, 2002.
With No. 5 Louisville losing Monday night to top-ranked Connecticut, the Golden Eagles are the only remaining Big East team without a loss in conference play.
“We’re old now,” said Matthews, one of four senior starters. “Maturity is helping us so much this season, with embracing the success but still being hungry.”
Hayward and Matthews each added 23 points against the Hoyas.
Marquette has already beaten DePaul (8-14, 0-9) once this season, 79-70 in Milwaukee on Jan. 24. McNeal, a Chicago native, had 21 points and six steals, Matthews scored 20 points and Hayward added 16 points and 17 rebounds.
The Blue Demons entered their most recent game as one of two Big East teams still looking for a league win, and after a 75-56 drubbing on Saturday at Rutgers, they’re the only one left.
It was the ninth straight loss overall for DePaul, which shot only 34.5 percent.
Leading scorer Dar Tucker struggled the most, knocking down just 5 of 17 shots for 14 points. Tucker, whose 18.5 ppg rank fifth in the conference, is shooting 34.3 percent in his last four games.
The Golden Eagles may need to pay closer attention to Will Walker. The junior guard had a game-high 23 points at Rutgers and is averaging 16.2 in his last six games. He scored 17 points in the Blue Demons’ loss at the Bradley Center in January.
Marquette has lost three of its last four road games against DePaul.
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