While hosting a struggling opponent seems ideal enough to end its recent slump, Marquette still needs to play better defense in order to get back on track.
The No. 10 Golden Eagles look to avoid a third straight Big East loss while trying for an eighth consecutive victory over St. John’s on Saturday night.
On Feb. 5, Marquette (20-4, 9-2) was alone atop the Big East standings and riding a 12-game winning streak. The next day, the Golden Eagles fell 57-56 at South Florida and followed that with a 102-84 defeat at No. 13 Villanova on Tuesday.
Now, Marquette is tied with No. 4 Pittsburgh and No. 5 Louisville for second in the Big East as it now tries to extend its 15-game winning streak at the Bradley Center.
The Golden Eagles, though, have a pair of winnable games, also playing Seton Hall at home on Tuesday. That’s followed by a daunting closing league stretch against Georgetown, No. 1 Connecticut, Louisville, Pitt and No. 23 Syracuse.
While poor shooting plagued the Golden Eagles against South Florida, their defense was the difference versus Villanova. Marquette allowed the Wildcats to shoot 58.7 percent for the game, including 72 percent in the second half.
“Until we’ve got our defensive mindset back and our edge and everything, we’ll have a hard time winning any games,” said Marquette senior guard Jerel McNeal, who scored 23 points to become the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,776.
Even St. John’s (12-12, 3-9), which has lost 11 straight road games dating to last season, has a chance if Marquette continues to rely solely on McNeal and an offense that averages 80.4 points.
“We’re sort of in the mindset right now, I think we get into a little bit, we think we can outscore people,” said McNeal, who’s averaging 20.2 points on the season and 24.5 in his last eight games. “We definitely don’t have the team to do that.”
The Golden Eagles are giving up 68.4 points per game, but they have allowed 80 or more in three league games.
The Red Storm are averaging 67.1 points and haven’t scored more than that during their seven-game losing streak to the Golden Eagles.
McNeal had 20 and Dominic James added 19 in Marquette’s 73-64 road win over St. John’s on Feb. 20 in their only meeting last season.
St. John’s, which last beat Marquette 70-68 on Feb. 26, 1966, looks to avoid a fourth straight loss after falling 71-61 at Cincinnati on Wednesday.
The Red Storm are 0-7 on their opponents’ home floors this season and haven’t won a true road game since winning 52-45 at Rutgers on Feb. 6, 2008.
“Every event is a tough venue to play in and Marquette is one of the best venues in the league and everybody feels more comfortable playing at home,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “It’s hard, but you have to battle though it, you have to be tough.”
Sophomore Paris Horne scored 20 points Wednesday for the Red Storm, who slipped to .500 for the first time this season. Horne is averaging a team-leading 14.7 points and 19.0 in his last three Big East road contests.
St. John’s has lost four straight against Top 25 teams since beating then-No. 7 Notre Dame 71-65 on Jan. 3.