With its latest victory, Marquette matched the school record for conference wins since joining the Big East. Adding to that number won’t be easy.
The 10th-ranked Golden Eagles continue the pursuit of their first Big East title Saturday when they open a difficult portion of their schedule beginning at Georgetown, which needs an impressive win to improve its NCAA tournament chances.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Big East remains up for grabs.
Connecticut leads the conference, but Marquette (22-4, 11-2), No. 4 Pittsburgh and seventh-ranked Louisville are all only one-half game back and have played one fewer league game than the Huskies.
The Golden Eagles kept pace in the conference race with Tuesday’s 79-67 victory over Seton Hall.
Jerel McNeal had only 13 points, snapping his streak of nine straight games with at least 20, but Wesley Matthews picked up the slack and finished with 24 to help the Golden Eagles match their record for Big East victories.
Marquette, which joined the Big East in 2005-06, went 11-7 in conference play in 2007-08 after winning 10 league games in each of its first two seasons.
“That ties the number of wins in Marquette history in the Big East and we are thankful for that,” Golden Eagles coach Buzz Williams said. “After I got through saying that Dominic (James) said, ‘Here comes the gauntlet.’ So I guess that’s what they must be saying on the radio or TV.”
After visiting Georgetown, Marquette hosts top-ranked UConn on Wednesday. The Golden Eagles then visit Louisville on March 1 and Pitt three days later. They close the regular season March 7 at home against No. 24 Syracuse.
Although the two-time defending Big East champion Hoyas have been a major disappointment, a Marquette team which has lost its last two road games can’t afford to overlook them.
Georgetown was ranked ninth in early January, but now needs to string some wins together to revive its NCAA tournament chances.
After losing seven of eight games - capped by overtime setbacks against Cincinnati and Syracuse - the Hoyas played as if their postseason fate was on the line in Wednesday’s 65-40 victory at South Florida.
“We’re not where we want to be, but I have extreme confidence in what this team can and will accomplish this year, now,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose team hosts Louisville on Monday and visits No. 12 Villanova next Saturday.
The Golden Eagles recorded a season high in points to win the first meeting of 2008-09 between these teams, 94-82 at home on Jan. 31.
McNeal led Marquette with 26 points, a career-high 11 assists and five steals, while Matthews and Lazar Hayward each added 23.
DaJuan Summers had 22 points to lead Georgetown, which shot 56.1 percent from the floor - including 10 of 20 from 3-point range - while taking advantage of defensive lapses by the Golden Eagles.
Marquette leads the Big East in scoring offense (80.0), but will likely need to play better defense to win the Big East title.
“Offense isn’t our problem,” Matthews said. “It’s, ‘How are we stopping you?’ And that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”
Slowing down a Georgetown team that shot 58.1 percent from the field Wednesday won’t be easy.
Against the Bulls, Chris Wright led the Hoyas with 17 points. The sophomore guard scored 19 while shooting 7 of 10 from the field against the Golden Eagles three weeks ago.