MILWAUKEE (AP)—With a big game against an in-state rival coming up, Marquette coach Tom Crean wanted to see his team bounce back strong from a loss to an unranked team.
He got it, but he had to wait until well into the second half.
Jerel McNeal scored 16 points to help the No. 17 Golden Eagles beat Delaware State 65-48 on Tuesday night.
Crean said the Hornets’ disciplined style—maintained despite a meat-grinder schedule that has them on the road for the better part of two months—provided a good test for his team.
“Obviously, for money purposes, they play a lot of guarantee games,” Crean said. “But they’ve played some outstanding games and we felt this was a really good win.”
Four Marquette starters scored in double digits as the Golden Eagles bounced back from their loss to unranked North Dakota State at home on Saturday, but it wasn’t easy. Delaware State hung close well into the second half as Marquette struggled to score.
“You can’t really look ahead playing against anybody,” McNeal said. “You can’t underestimate anybody. We learned that on Saturday.”
It was the 150th career victory for Crean, in his eighth season at Marquette. The Golden Eagles face No. 11 Wisconsin in Milwaukee on Saturday.
“We got a lot of contributions from a lot of different people,” Crean said. “And certainly, there’s always room to improve.”
The Hornets trailed 49-37 when Marquette’s Dominic James and Jamil Lott combined for a steal, and James finished with a breakaway layup.
James then hit a 3-pointer to put Marquette ahead 54-37 with 11:46 remaining.
McNeal hit two free throws, then hit a pull-up jump shot on a fast break to put the Golden Eagles ahead 58-37 with 9:07 remaining.
Marquette went on to extend its lead to 61-38 on a 3-pointer by David Cubillan—Marquette’s first points off the bench for the entire game.
Roy Bright scored 16 to lead Delaware State. Darrin Shine and Jahsha Bluntt each added 12 points, and Delaware State outrebounded Marquette 31-28.
Delaware State played the eighth game in a 14-game streak of road or neutral-site games.
“We are going to go home with confidence, and we are going to be a better team because of it,” Hornets coach Greg Jackson said.
Marquette struggled to find a rhythm on offense, but bailed itself out of a potential scare with its perimeter defense. Delaware State was only 5-for-21 from 3-point range, including 2-for-12 in the first half.
“When you’re having a little rough situation on offense, you have to be able to lean on your defense,” Wesley Matthews said.
Matthews scored 10 of Marquette’s first 12 points of the game, but Marquette couldn’t put together an extended run to pull away in the first half. The Hornets trailed by only four, 26-22, after two free throws by Marcus Neal with 4:18 remaining in the first half.
Dan Fitzgerald hit a 3-pointer, and McNeal came up with a steal and a slam-dunk to put Marquette ahead 31-22 with 3:47 left in the half. But Marquette couldn’t build on their momentum, and led only 32-24 at halftime.
Matthews scored 15 for Marquette. James and Fitzgerald each scored 13—a season high for Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, who started in place of Lott, also had a team-high seven rebounds.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Crean said. “He adjusted very well and brought a lot of good basketball to us.”
It was the second off night in a row for James, Marquette’s leading scorer at 17.4 points per game coming into Tuesday’s game. He scored eight points in the Golden Eagles’ loss to North Dakota State on Saturday.
With the loss on Tuesday, the Hornets are 1-7 on their extended streak away from home, including losses at Pittsburgh Nov. 14 and at Wisconsin Nov. 21.
“We just want to try and get our kids out there and play in as many adverse situations that we can, so if we win our league, we give (ourselves) a chance in the NCAA Tournament,” Jackson said.