NEW YORK (AP)—Marquette coach Tom Crean has a colorful description for the way he wants his team to play and a frank assessment of it when it doesn’t.
“Around Marquette we call it blue collar desperate,” Crean said of the defensive attitude and hard work he expects of the 25th-ranked Golden Eagles. “If we’re not playing that way we’re not that good.”
Marquette played that way for three-quarters of a 73-64 victory over St. John’s on Wednesday night and the Golden Eagles had enough of a cushion to get their third straight win after a two-game losing streak.
“We have to learn to keep that same mind-set throughout the game,” Crean said. “We just have to learn and focus better.”
Jerel McNeal had 20 points and seven rebounds for Marquette and Dominic James was 9-for-9 from the free throw line and added 19 points.
Marquette (19-6, 9-5 Big East) took control of the game with its trademark defense, getting eight steals in forcing 16 first-half turnovers on the way to a 36-24 lead.
The Golden Eagles opened a 23-point lead three times, the last at 59-36 on a short jumper by Dan Fitzgerald with 10:05 to play.
“Most definitely we came out to start the game the way we did,” James said. “Our defense is our offense. Getting stops gets our running game going. Our defense is our best offense.”
The Red Storm (10-15, 4-10) then showed a rare offensive spark, going on a 14-2 run that made it 61-50 on a free throw by Eugene Lawrence with 6:31 left.
James scored on a reverse layup on a nice pass from Lazar Hayward— Marquette’s first field goal in 5:07—to snap the run and Ousmane Barro added two free throws and the Golden Eagles were up 65-50 with 4:04 left.
The Red Storm had one last run, outscoring Marquette 11-4 to pull to 69-61 on a 3-pointer by Lawrence with 21 seconds to go.
Anthony Mason Jr. had 20 points for St. John’s, which dropped its third straight after a three-game winning streak. Freshman Paris Horne and Lawrence both had 12 points for St. John’s.
“The last 12 minutes we played with more energy and in an attack mode,” said Red Storm coach Norm Roberts, who has eight freshmen averaging double figures in minutes played. “We’re young. When things didn’t go well a couple of times early they got young.”
The Red Storm, who lost their fifth straight game at Madison Square Garden, had their season-low point total in their last two games, 43 in a 17-point loss to Cincinnati and 42 in an 18-point loss to Villanova.
Marquette finished with nine steals, just under its 9.2 average which is second in the Big East. St. John’s, which averages 15 turnovers per game, finished with 23.
“Our guys did a lot of good things,” Crean said. “We did a fantastic job of setting the tone with defense early and at the start of the second half. We let our guard down, which we couldn’t do, and they took it to us.”
The 12-point halftime deficit was the Red Storm’s best first-half offensive showing in their last three games at Madison Square Garden. Georgetown had a 41-14 lead over St. John’s after 20 minutes and Villanova was ahead of the Red Storm 31-13 at the half.
“We’re playing really good basketball teams,” Roberts said. “We are asking our freshmen to be juniors and that’s not fair but they’re trying.
“When you make shots everybody gets excited. When you don’t you struggle and it’s really hard for a young team to get through that.”
St. John’s finished 23-for-40 from the free throw line, while Marquette was 21-for-26.
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