As Jerel McNeal moves closer toward becoming Marquette’s all-time leading scorer, his play seems to be getting better.
After facing the worst team in the Big East in their last game, McNeal and the No. 8 Golden Eagles likely won’t get much of a tougher challenge on Friday when they visit South Florida.
McNeal has scored at least 21 points in his last six games and is averaging 26.3 points, 6.3 assists and 3.7 steals in the last three. He led Marquette (20-2, 9-0) to its 12th straight win Tuesday, finishing with 26 points, six assists, five steals and a career-high four blocked shots in a 76-61 victory at DePaul.
“I never try to impact the game,” said McNeal, who has recorded nine of his career-high 17 blocks in the last three games. “I want to have a variety of ways I can impact the game, but anytime you have that versatility, you can help your team a lot. It becomes a situation where the opposing team has to account for me at all times.”
McNeal’s performance on Tuesday gave him 1,731 career points. He needs five more to surpass Butch Lee for second on Marquette’s all-time list, and with 43 points he’ll take over as the Golden Eagles’ top scorer, moving past George Thompson, who set the record in 1969.
“If I could come up with a few more adjectives, I would,” Marquette coach Buzz Williams said. “I think he’s playing with an unbelievable chip on his shoulder, with a toughness that defines him as a person and as a player. He’s all over the floor every possession, and that’s why his line looks the way that it does. He’s playing maybe as good as he could play every possession of the game.”
The Golden Eagles are trying for their longest winning streak since the 1975-76 team won 23 in a row. Marquette, off to its best start since the 1977-78 squad opened 22-2, hasn’t lost since falling 80-68 to then-No. 16 Tennessee on Dec. 16.
After beating a DePaul team that is winless in Big East play, Marquette will face a team that isn’t playing much better. The Golden Eagles have won seven straight over South Florida (7-14, 2-7) and are 14-2 against the Bulls all-time.
South Florida, which hasn’t won in the series since a 75-63 victory in Milwaukee on Dec. 13, 1998, has held McNeal in check. In two meetings, the 6-foot-3 guard has averaged 9.5 points and shot 7-for-22 from the field (31.8 percent).
The Bulls are trying to avoid a fourth straight loss after falling 65-48 at St. John’s on Sunday. They shot 35.3 percent in their second-lowest scoring game of the season and were outscored 37-26 in the second half.
Leading scorer Dominique Jones had 16 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but the rest of the Bulls shot 29.7 percent (11-for-37).
“We just couldn’t find the basket today,” coach Stan Heath said. “Our offensive shooting is a struggle right now.”
Heath’s team is averaging 58.4 points and shooting 38.8 percent in the last five games.
South Florida has lost all five games this season against ranked opponents, including three at home.