MILWAUKEE (AP)—Jerel McNeal just wants to improve each game and not worry about anything else.
The sophomore guard scored 15 of his career-high 25 points in the decisive first half to lead No. 19 Marquette to a 77-57 victory over Morgan State on Friday night.
He went 8-of-15 from the field and a personal-best 7-of-8 from the free throw line.
“I really try not to read to it much into it,” said McNeal, who matched his career high with seven assists. He went to the bench with 3 minutes to play and Marquette leading 73-53. “I’m just focusing on me coming out better every game regardless of who we’re playing.”
Dan Fitzgerald added 11 points for the Golden Eagles (12-2), who never trailed.
Reggie Holmes had three 3-pointers and scored 13 points and Ronald Timus and Jamar Smith each had 12 points for the Bears (2-8), who dropped to 0-5 on the road this season, losing by an average margin of 17.4 points.
McNeal’s previous career high was 19 points which he reached three times, the last against Texas Tech on Nov. 20.
McNeal had a basket, an assist and a steal as Marquette opened the game with a 10-0 run. Morgan State missed its first seven shots before Boubacar Coly scored to end the Golden Eagles’ run.
“I can’t lower my level of play or raise my level of play just depending on the competition,” McNeal said. “I’ve got to come out and be consistent. That’s the most important thing.”
McNeal came into the game leading the NCAA in steals with 46. He had four against Morgan State.
“Steals come when they come,” McNeal said. “They’re not a focal point.”
Marquette scored 14 points off 13 turnovers in the first half. The Bears were unable to handle Marquette’s pressure in the second half as well and that led to 14 more points.
“We just broke down mentally,” Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman said. “That was our problem.”
McNeal hit a floating jump shot, a 3-pointer and then stole the ball and laid it in for a 34-17 lead with 6:00 left in the half.
Smith’s basket capped a 7-2 run in the second half that pulled Morgan State within eight points, but Marquette answered with a 15-3 run, keyed by four points from McNeal, that pushed the lead to 65-45 with just under 10 minutes left.
“We cut it to eight in the second half with about eight minutes to go, and then our focus, we just lost our focus,” Bozeman said.
The Bears, who dropped to 0-5 all-time against Marquette, never got closer than 18 points the rest of the way.
The victory sends the Golden Eagles into a weeklong Christmas break before facing Savannah State on Dec. 30. They open Big East play at Providence on Jan. 4.
Morgan State’s only bright spots were outrebounding Marquette 36-27 and holding them below the 85.7 points which the Bears came in allowing their opponents to score.
The Bears opened the season with six straight losses before winning two games. They lost 102-76 to La Salle on Wednesday.